Carrie

November 30, 2013
Chloë Grace Moretz in Carrie, 2013
Chloë Grace Moretz in Carrie, 2013

Is there any difference between a ‘reboot’ and a ‘remake’? At some point during the last few years, the word ‘reboot’ quietly migrated from the land of computer jargon and became movie jargon. In purely semantic terms the idea of remaking a movie seems more ambitious than rebooting one. We reboot a computer by turning the power off and on when all else has failed. The idea is to restore what was lost, garbled or inaccessible. A remake implies a new approach to the original content.

In practise the terms are used intechangeably but the rapid ascendency of ‘reboot’ is symptomatic of Hollywood’s growing addiction to sequels and updated versions of previously successful films. I wondered if I was merely imagining there is a greater percentage of these projects today, but a little research yielded a website (denofgeek.com) that lists no fewer than 57 “remakes and reboots” currently in development. There are probably four or five times as many sequels. This isn’t a tendency, it’s a pathology.

The obvious diagnosis is that corporate Hollywood has grown increasingly conservative in its outlook – preferring to track back over known territory rather than explore new ideas. Established auteurs such as Peter Weir have found it hard to secure funding, while youthful directors of TV shows and pop videos are put in charge of $100 million blockbusters. It’s an achievement if they can lift these big-budget films out of the realm of formula, as Francis Lawrence did with Hunger Games II: Catching Fire. Formula is all the money men require.

Kimberly Pierce, director of the rebooted Carrie, says she had the blessing of Brian De Palma, who made the original horror classic of 1976. This is hardly surprising because the most telling aspect of the new Carrie, like so many updates, is that it generates an enhanced appreciation of the original film.

De Palma’s film feels more than ever like a work of art, strongly influenced by Hitchcock, while Pierce has given us an anthology of special effects, horror clichés and sociology. Nevertheless, the new Carrie cannot be lumped in with the worst reboots (and here I reserve a special mention for Len Wiseman’s Total Recall of last year). For the most part it’s a solid, well-made film that would be more impressive if it had never been done before.

De Palma’s film began with the school volleyball game and subsequent locker room episode in which Carrie White is humiliated by the other girls when she panics at her first menstruation. The scene is frankly voyeuristic, with Carrie lost in her own sensuality under the shower while her classmates flaunt their nakedness. It’s a startling beginning which establishes Carrie’s status as a misfit.

Pierce chooses to begin with the story of Carrie’s birth in which she is portrayed as a demon seed in the manner of Rosemary’s Baby or The Omen. There is a lot of blood and dramatic music. The new mother is about to stab the sinister newborn to death, before maternal instincts kick in and we segue to the present. For the rest of the film we see Carrie as the bearer of some evil spirit, despite her gormless persona.

The stories travel along roughly identical lines, showing Carrie’s introverted personality as a function of the way she has been brought up by a religious fanatic of a mother, obsessed with sin. It is a tale of wish fulfilment and trauma, as the nerd of the class becomes the most admired girl at the Prom, only to have her moment of glory snatched away. Carrie captures the vindictiveness and competitiveness of the teenage years, with only slight exaggeration. The horror aspect comes from Carrie’s hidden powers of telekinesis, by which she can manipulate objects in space through the force of her mind. The Prom scene, where she wreaks revenge on her perceived tormentors, is justly famous.

Whatever her inclinations as a female director, Pierce was obliged to make a less eroticised movie because her lead actress, Chlöe Grace Moretz, was only 15 when the film was shot. Sissy Spacek in the De Palma film, was 26. While Moretz may be closer to the real age of the character in Stephen King’s novel, she feels too young for this part. Her way of portraying Carrie’s vulnerability is to hunch her shoulders, wrinkle her brow, and move her mouth like an amoeba under a microscope. Spacek was more convincing, particularly in her zombified state after the disaster at the Prom.

Julianne Moore, as the demented mother, Margaret, is the star of this show, but her madness has advanced by several stages from the character played by Piper Laurie in 1976. The new Margaret is truly frightening, prone to bouts of self-harm and hysteria. The problem, as with every other aspect of Pierce’s Carrie, is that her actions are overdetermined and explained, where De Palma left more to the viewer’s imagination.

Pierce’s big innovation is to have the girls in the locker room reach for their mobile phones to video Carrie’s humiliating moment. The nasty girl, Chris (Portia Doubleday) then posts the clip on FaceBook, and later has it flashed onto screens at the Prom. The filming allows concerned teacher, Ms. Desjardin (Judy Greer) to make a speech about how the clip could end up on the Today Show. This may be perectly true but it comes across as a plodding moral warning to the youth of America. Ms. Desjardin is too much of a chorus, just as Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde), the repentant nice girl, is too nice to be true.

The other major difference in Pierce’s film is that Carrie becomes aware of her powers more quickly and spends a lot of time experimenting. When we get to the Prom the toll of mayhem is bigger, the special effects more extravagant, and the final confrontation between Carrie and Chris treated as a kind of duel. In De Palma’s version it was over in seconds. Suspense is sacrificed for spectacle.

The implicit warnings about the effects of bullying and the improper use of mobile phones sit oddly with the sadistic relish Pierce brings to the revenge sequences. It is almost as though we are supposed to cheer Moretz as she kicks ass, whereas Spacek acted like a sleepwalker or a figure possessed.

It suggests that Pierce, who is best known for her debut feature, Girls Don’t Cry (1999), is not at home with the horror genre. It’s a field that allows a lot of room for metaphor and satire, but too many directors simply use gruesome murders as punishment for deviations from the path of virtue – as if they actually believed in such things. Pierce’s earlier work suggests a strong sense of ethics, but this appears to be in conflict with the studio’s requirement for another gore-fest tailored to the demands of the box office.

Carrie
USA, rated MA 15+
100 mins
Directed by Kimberly Pierce; screenplay by Lawrence D. Cohen & Robert Aguirre-Sacasa, from a novel by Stephen King; starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Gabriella Wilde, Ansel Elgort, Portia Doubleday, Judy Greer

Published in the Australian Financial Review, Saturday 30 November, 2013.