REVIEW: Scary White: A Sharp New Take on Carrie’s Cautionary Tale

Does the new Carrie hold up to the classic?
By: Rebekah Allen
October 21 2013 4:03 PM

As far as I’m concerned, the story of Carrie White is a timeless classic. I also believe it would be nearly impossible to spoil out director Kimberly Pierce’s Carrie remake, so be warned I intend to review freely. It's safe to say we all know the image of the wide-eyed, shell shocked prom queen drenched in blood, and if you don't, too bad because the film’s trailer shows literally the entire movie in under three minutes.

This is a story that originated as a book, then became a a movie, a musical, a TV movie, spawned a TV sequel, two revivals of the musical, and now here we are. Personally, I couldn't have been more thrilled/nervous for this modern-day remake as I have been borderline obsessed with Stephen King's Carrie and its many variations since middle school. Granted, I was -17 when the movie came out in 1976 so I’ve always felt far removed from its events and style. It was just another special effects-challenged horror film that fascinated me because it is incredibly well-devised and Sissy Spacek is casting perfection. So how does this new approach hold up? Much better than Ewen High, I can tell you that.

It’s odd to see Carrie White (portrayed by 16-year-old prodigy Chloë Grace Moretz) as she would be 2013. At first I was borderline furious. How dare Carrie be taken out of her familiar 70s bubble? However, it became immediately clear that there really is no time more fitting or chilling for this tale than today. It’s still the same story, almost verbatim when it comes to some of the dialogue. The surprise arrival of Carrie White’s period turns her into the laughing stock of the school, only this time vicious queen-bitch Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday, in what may be the best performance in the film) is able to record it on her phone and post it to Youtube. Right off the bat this a particularly bad century to be Carrie. To make matters worse, Carrie’s mother Margaret (Julianne Moore, chewing the scenery into another dimension) is, to put it lightly, a religious fanatic who tends to beat her daughter with a bible and lock her in a closet for no reason other than puberty. A new moment here is Margaret’s suggestion that Carrie’s ungodly period was caused by lesbian thoughts in the gym shower. But Carrie is too busy being distracted by her budding telekineses to really connect to a sexuality either way, and that's not the film's focus.

It wasn’t until the prom scene that I latched onto the real horror of setting Carrie in modern day. In 1976 there had been tragedies in schools, but between then and now, shootings and other acts of violence have become a horrifying almost-constant. To call Carrie, though bullied and abused, a protagonist would be to side with the shooter in one such tragedy. Carrie has telekinesis instead of guns and bombs, and the science fiction aspect does differentiate from reality, but not so much in this remake that strives to capture the realism of high schools today. Even the music played at prom is as recent as the Civil War’s new (amazing and worth buying) album, which was released just last month. Several of the most minor characters in the film are given moments of humanity that force the audience to recognize them as people before their destruction. What Chris and her friends do to Carrie throughout the film are acts of extreme bullying. What Carrie does in return is an act of psychopathic terror, and the fear amongst the students once the carnage ensues feels almost too real. Carrie, who has an orgasmic reaction to her abilities, seems to be sort of getting off on the destruction as well, which only confuses the audience more. Who is the protagonist here? Who do we root for? Nope, can’t root for that one, they just died. Do we root for Sue Snell, played with mesmerizingly gorgeous blandness by Gabriella Wilde? I guess we root for Sue, the well meaning do-gooder who just can’t seem to successfully repent for throwing tampons at Carrie (and whose character just can't be interesting if her life depended on it). After a certain point, you're kind of just out of options.

Something Pierce’s Carrie immediately has over the original is just how far special effects have come since 1976. The prom scene now resembles something out of a lost Final Destination film, and the SFX people clearly have a lot of fun with slow-motion bones smashing. But it takes over an hour for the blood to hit the fan, and until then, it’s imperative the audience connect to the characters, most of whom haven't had changed much since the original (unless you count Sue being blonde and Chris being brunette this time). The only re-interpretation of one of Carrie's classic characters that really stuck with me was Portia Doubleday as Chris. Chris is a despicable character. She seems to have no soul, she’s sadistic and ruthless and literally tortures Carrie, yet Portia makes her human. She’s a girl you’d know, someone you’d probably hate but would also weirdly understand. Portia makes amazing use of what’s between the lines and adds a layer of teenage desperation to Chris' expressions and body language that, even though she continues to be every average high schooler’s nightmare, proves she is just another teenager with hopes and wants of her own.

Another treat (though I am barely calling Chris Hargrnsen a treat) is Judy Greer as gym teacher and only consistently decent person Miss Desjardin. I had the pleasure of meeting Judy Greer once and she was absolutely lovely, so I root for her success in all things, as should the world. Also, if you are interested in the world of  young adult literature, watch out for Ansel Egort, who plays Tommy Ross, as Gus in John Green's Fault in Our Stars film adaptation. He's a pleasant fellow and one day will hopefully be in a film with more positive circumstances.

I wish I could talk about Chloë Moretz’s performance in the way I can about Portia’s, but Chloë’s Carrie is complicated to unravel. She is, for the most part, reserved, focused (when she’s not dodging tampons or getting locked in closets), and over her mother’s nonsense from the get go. She’s a disturbed, disconnected young girl whose only friend is her ability to choke people and break things with her mind. It’s an interesting take, and a jarring one since I’m used to listening to Carrie power belt and key change her feelings using absurd metaphors (I do a lot of listening to the 2012 Off-Broadway cast recording in my free time...). Even Sissy Spacek’s Carrie is more of a weeping, fragile mess. I’ve decided to believe this was Chloë’s approach, and not a case of underacting, because it really does work for the character despite making her difficult to crack. As for concern that Chloë is too pretty to play Carrie, check it at the door. Yes, Chloë is beautiful, but the strategic use of modest homemade dresses, no makeup, and dry, stringy hair make her, though still pretty, plain and simple compared to her done-up classmates. It’s also interesting that most Chloë’s 'teen' co-stars are nearly 10 years older then she is. She is in all ways younger, more innocent and easily victimized.

As for Margaret White, Julianne Moore and her overwhelming mane give 110% as Carrie’s religiously abusive mother. I thought the performance couldn’t have been more spot on, but my viewing buddy with little previous Carrie experience thought she was too one note. It’s true you never really get to know more about Margaret then her ‘Eve was weak/fire and brimstone' attempt at parenting, but at this point it seems insanity has truly drowned out any other potential qualities. Julianne’s Margaret does lack the sense of intense, creepy joy that Piper Laurie’s has when chastising her daughter. This remake in general stays away from the campy, over-the-top dramatics its predecessor basked in, though what else could you expect from the director of Boys Dont Cry?

The original Carrie has a special place in horror history, but Pierce’s remake isn’t a bad way to re-introduce Carrie White into the modern world. A this point, nearly 40 years removed from the original telling, there are going to be teenagers who don’t know what they’re in for and may be thoroughly entertained without having to compare it to anything. That, or they’ll be annoyed it takes so damn long to get to the blood n' guts.

Honestly, to review this movie experience to its fullest I would have liked to read/watch every reincarnation up to this one again, but unfortunately my life is unable to revolve around analyzing Carrie. However, I do believe this remake stands its ground and actually adds interesting depth and detail that we’ve never seen before. I’m not sure how I’m adjusting to really seeing Carrie in the light of a sick mass-murderer rather then a 70s horror icon or cheesy off-broadway Scream Queen, but I appreciate that I’m challenged to. It’s certainly not as camptastic fun as the original, but isn't trying to be, and it's definitely a top contender for a chilling Halloween experience. 

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