EXPECTATIONS: Oliver Stone's really reaching for his biopic material if he's looking to 2004 presidential nominee John Kerry for inspiration. No matter, JFK and Nixon were such good films, I'm willing to give Kerry a shot. Maybe Stone will finally put the swift boat controversy to rest.
Wake up, Sean. You're confused again.
REALITY: The plot of Carrie -- which, as it turns out, is not a biopic of 2004 presidential nominee John Kerry -- is something of a modern folktale, so well-known through Stephen King's original novel, Brian De Palma's 1976 adaptation, a 1999 sequel famous for being terrible, a 2002 made-for-TV Canadian remake, a Broadway musical and last year's Chronicle. It's a cautionary tale for bullies, a study in clockwork tragedy and a story that reaffirms a perennial misconception, that anything with a vagina is a thin-skinned batshit blood machine and don't you dare cross it at the wrong of time of the month. (If you can't tell, I have issues with King's telekinesis-menarche conflation, but we'll get back to those.)
The song remains the same, even if the band has changed. This time around, Kimberly Peirce sits in the director's chair. Chloë Grace Moretz plays the eponymous character, bullied until she snaps and practically murders the entire town. Julianne Moore plays her mother, a fire-and-brimstone zealot who ensures Carrie doesn't feel safe at home either. Judy Greer plays the only teacher concerned for Carrie's well-being. People who aren't Nancy Allen, John Travolta, Amy Irving or William Katt round out the cast of teens complicit, to varying degrees, in Carrie's undoing.
Wisely, screenwriters Lawrence Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa know this story holds few surprises and keep the plot moving. Carrie is only two minutes longer than the 1976 iteration and yet it includes two or three additional subplots that will be familiar to fans of the book. Whenever Moore and Moretz share the screen, Carrie crackles. To her credit, Moore proves herself to be Piper Laurie's equal, creating a more realistic Margaret White that's every bit as creepy. Small details work: Chris Hargensen, the leader of the bullies, is now spray-tanned, insufferable and the least attractive in her clique. Conversely, Moretz plays Carrie with more awareness -- and a sadistic streak that adds a whole new dimension to the character, when you think about it. And in the climactic sequence, Peirce manages to one-up De Palma simply because this version enjoys access to better special effects and a bigger budget. King's plot, in which each character's incomplete knowledge renders a harrowing tragedy, still works. But there's a more fascinating draw for people interested in the politics of film: How does the politically conscious director of Boys Don't Cry handle a pseudo-feminist -- OK, actually anti-feminist novel that was previously and most famously adapted by one of cinema's iconic perverts?
Yeah, I buy that as a mother/daughter combo.
The title sequence from De Palma's Carrie was indistinguishable from any softcore porno, all soapy breasts, slow motion and towel-snapping in a girls' locker room ripped from any adolescent boy's most masturbatory fantasy. The fantasy ends, of course, in a sudden shock: blood mixes with the sudsy water running down Carrie's alabaster thigh. Soon, the bullies are throwing tampons and maxi-pads at a naked, frightened Carrie as they shout, "Plug it up! Plug it up!" Similarly, De Palma dressed his Carrie in a white gown that became translucent when exposed to pig's blood. However wrongheaded he is when dealing with women, De Palma had a knack for the queasy juxtaposition of the sexual and the violent before his voyeuristic camera. Peirce loses that, for the best. Now, the "plug it up" sequence is a long shot, no one's wearing less than underwear and most are wearing more, a strategically placed shower wall and towel conceal Moretz's body, Carrie wears a rose-colored dress and the pig's blood is grimy. The tension between this new Carrie and all that came before drives this film, as Peirce acknowledges that doting montages of high school girls in various stages of undress and bloody wet t-shirt contests had a time and place: the 1970s.
Sadly, no one involved in the production seemed to realize that Carrie as a whole had a time and place. Despite superficial attempts to bring the story to 2013 with varying degrees of success, essential features of the plot ground Carrie in that weird post-second wave feminism era, when seemingly progressive male writers were content to acknowledge that women had menstrual cycles and feelings too, even if they were, by and large, an irrational, mysterious bunch. That's the social landscape in which Carrie was written, but nowadays, it's improbable that a girl wouldn't experience menarche by 18 and downright unfathomable that she wouldn't know about menstruation. Furthermore, it's pretty "hurr hurr, I don't trust anything that bleeds for four days and doesn't die"/"if we elected Hillary Clinton, we'd have to find somebody else to run the country every fourth weekend amirite" to confuse sexual maturity with magical people-murdering powers. Menstruation isn't a mystery anymore, and the notions Carrie perpetuates seem like vestigial shards of a bygone era, as does the high school patois Cohen and Aguirre-Sacasa have ported from the book or the idea that anyone has named her child Sue since, like, 1981. I don't know anyone my age or younger named Sue, and I doubt you do either.
Because of these anachronisms (and many more), Carrie's setting and time feel like places that never quite coalesce, existing somewhere in a parallel universe where disco never died but mankind invented YouTube regardless. Where towns contract and expand according to the needs of the plot or a grand-scale crane shot. Where suburbs, dress shops, pig farms, a large high school with an indoor pool (and only two dozen female seniors; strange, innit?) are within close proximity. That's a disappointment. Once upon a time, Carrie illuminated the horrors of bullying and presaged the wave of school shootings that would scar America a full two decades later. Now, as bullying has escalated past humiliating pranks and victims are more likely to commit suicide than seek revenge, it feels quaint and irrelevant.
|Chloë Grace Moretz||11/10|
|The Prom Sequence||8/10|
|Time and Setting||3/10|
|Ew Vaginas Are Bleedy||0/10|
MINORITY REPORT: The Carrie remake may be quaint and irrelevant, but the soundtrack album is fantastic. I can't wait for Thin-Skinned Batshit Blood Machine to go on tour next month. - Joseph "Jay Dub" Wade
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