MGM // 2013 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // January 20th, 2014
You will know her name!
Though I probably won't live to see it, I fervently hope in the next couple of centuries, Carrie White will take the ranks of Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyan as an American folk figure (though, it must be said, she's not quite the "hero" that Appleseed and Bunyan are). Her story, though, is perfect for mythologizing. It has the hallmarks of a good tale: a put-upon hero (Carrie herself) who must undergo trials (mostly from her mother) before coming into her powers (telekinesis). I'm fairly confident that she'll be a folk figure in the next few centuries because like the best folk tales, her story survives, even seems to thrive, on multiple tellings. From Stephen King's novel in 1974 to De Palma's 1976 film and onward to a Broadway adaptation, a semi-sequel, a television version, and now the 2013 Carrie. Though it adds little to the novel, this is a fine update that will hopefully hook a younger generation on the delights of Carrie White.
It seems strange to recap the story, but here it goes: Carrie White (Chloë Grace Moretz, Kick-Ass) is the daughter of a religious zealot (Julianne Moore, Hannibal). She's so sheltered by her mother that she doesn't even realize what's happening when she gets her first period in the showers after gym class senior year. She flips out, seeking help from the other girls, all of whom turn on her and throw tampons. One of the girls (Portia Doubleday, Her) takes video and spreads it around, while another girl, Sue (Gabriella Wilde, Endless Love) feels bad for her participation. Sue convinces her boyfriend to take Carrie to the prom to repay her, but Chris and her boyfriend have other plans. The fact that Carrie realizes that with her new womanhood comes telekinetic powers only complicates things further.
I'm going to avoid the "politics of remakes" discussion and get into what Carrie does right. The main thing is having an excellent cast. Chloë Grace Moretz is the first teenager to play the teenage White, and she radiates the power and vulnerability of the young woman. She's so good that it's possible, even easy, to forget that her most famous roles so far have been spent playing bad-asses in Kick-Ass and Let the Right One In. Her high school co-stars are a bit older, but Moretz's youth actually makes them appear younger than they are, a marked improvement from the ten-years-too-old cast of the first Carrie. The real centerpiece, though, is Julianne Moore as Carrie's mother. She's a wild-haired, wild-eyed picture of a believer. Even though Moore hasn't staked her career on typical notions of beauty or attraction, it's still a shocking transformation that really sells Carrie's isolation in a world where the Internet is a thing. Finally, Judy Greer deserves a shout-out as the gym teacher Ms. Dejardin, who seems more sympathetic (both towards Carrie and to us) than she has in other adaptations.
Director Kimberly Pierce (of Boys Don't Cry fame) claims that her intent was to return to the novel rather than remake De Palma's film. In that regard, she does a pleasantly inoffensive job. There are a few changes, like the use of cell phones, but overall this is the basic story without any of the baroque interventions (like split-screen) that made De Palma's feature stand out. Perhaps the biggest change that fans of the book will notice is the pleasant addition of more of Sue Snell's arc from the book (I won't give it away). Not much is done with it, but that's similar to the book as well.
Unsurprisingly, Carrie (Blu-ray) gets a solid effort. The 2.35:1/1080p AVC-encoded image is chock-full of detail, from close-ups of Carrie's blood-soaked face to the field on which her tormentors are forced to run suicides. Colors are spot-on throughout, with bold greens and blues in the beginning gradually giving way to the darker colors of the finally. Black levels are especially impressive, with inky depths towards the end that are consistent as Carrie rampages. The DTS-HD 5.1 surround track is similarly strong. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, but the track really shines while Carrie is manifesting her powers. We get plenty of surround action and lots of dynamic range.
Extras start with an engaging commentary by Pierce. She spends most of her time commenting on the themes in the film, along with a few asides about how individual shots were achieved. We also get the option to play the film with an alternate ending, along with a brief intro by Pierce. A more standard set of deleted scenes with optional commentary are included as well, totaling 10 minutes. There are three featurettes that cover the fire stunt, the making of the film, and the portrayal of telekinesis. There's also a viral marketing video stunt, where a young woman appears to make telekinesis happen in a NYC coffee shop to promote the film, along with a more traditional trailer. A DVD and Ultraviolet Digital Copy of the film are also included.
Carrie practically defines "unnecessary" when it comes to the idea of a remake. The film doesn't have the virtue of being more faithful to the book than De Palma's film (by virtue of the addition of the cell phones) nor does it have the wild invention of De Palma's film to call its own. Instead, it's a by-the-numbers presentation that just happens to have quality technicians behind it.
Still, there's something insidious about this remake. The beauty of Carrie is that any one of us could be Carrie White, that we all have felt isolated or trapped like that at some point. I've never been a teenage girl, and I never got a period, but I still felt Carrie's pain and terror when something inexplicable happened to her body. The brilliance of King's novel is that he makes everything about Carrie's world normal except for her telekinesis, because it's that telekinesis that provides the revenge that many people have contemplated. The problems that Carrie faces are not just the problems of bad individuals, but a system (like high school, like religious zealotry) that conspires to hurt people.
What this version of Carrie does, instead, is make all of Carrie's enemies "bad apples." Her mother is obviously insane, rather than a surprisingly normal take on religious zealotry that can still be found today. Chris and her boyfriend basically act alone, and when the prank occurs it takes very little time for the whole school to realize how cruel it is rather than how funny. This leaches whatever radical potential Carrie might have had; it's not an indictment of high school and its cliques, but a scary portrait of what happens when a young girl overreacts.
For a new generation of viewers, Carrie will hopefully inspire a return to Stephen King's still-powerful tale of adolescent woe. Though not as strong as De Palma's classic, Carrie is a solidly made take on the source material with the benefit of a stellar cast. The excellent quality of this Blu-ray means it's at least worth a rental to the curious.
Unnecessary, but not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, Descriptive)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy
* UltraViolet Download
* Official Site
* Facebook Page