Friday, October 18, 2013

Film Review: Kimberly Peirce's Carrie

A good remake, huh?  Okay, it can happen once and a while.  Right?  Perhaps.  A good remake (oxymoron perhaps?) must tread that fine line between being faithful to the original while also giving us something fresh and (ironically perhaps?) new.  In essence, Kimberly Peirce's remake of Brian De Palma's 1976 horror classic, which in turn was, of course, an adaptation of Stephen King's iconic first novel, does the first part well.  She may not imbue the film with the almost satiric visual prose that De Palma did, nor does her film have the visceral urgency of the original (De Palma's film is more stylistic, of course), but the director does give her version enough of a chilling realism vibe, to make it more than merely passable as inevitable homage.  But as for the second half of our aforementioned fine line treading, Peirce falls woefully short of the proverbially intended goal line.  Nowhere inside this basically faithful remake, is there even an ounce of freshness.  Peirce seems to bring nothing to the table, or screen, in the way of a fresh outlook on the story.  Sure we get the necessary updates (poor Carrie White's surprise menstruation fiasco goes viral on Youtube) but otherwise, unlike those few fresh remakes we get now and again (Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead and Soderbergh's Ocean films come immediately to this critic's mind) this film is given no real reason to even exist.  Harsh I know, but all too true.

Peirce (coincidentally, to give a bit of a shout out, the director was born just a few months after me in the same town from where I hail), who is only now getting around to her third film, after her spectacular 1999 debut Boys Don't Cry, and her rather lackluster 2008 film, Stop-Loss, handles the chores of remake helmsman well, using intriguing camera angles and imposing, though perhaps a bit too obvious, religious imagery, throughout her film, but as I have said already (hounded about actually), the director gives nothing fresh to the story.  Some have claimed this to be a more faithful adaptation of King's novel than De Palma's film (I've never read the book, so I cannot weigh in on that), but the film seems to follow De Palma's original pretty well (so much so that I keep complaining about nothing new being brought to bare here), so it really can't be that much more faithful. But really, De Palma is one of those directors you either love or hate, and for those of us who love the guy, it is hard to imagine anyone doing something better than he.  Well, except for Hitchcock, but that's a whole other story. So that leaves the performances, and how they fare up to the somewhat unfair, but completely inevitable comparisons to the original.

Sissy Spacek was an unearthly Carrie White, something akin to a living ghost, a beautiful young woman, but not in the so-called typical way, while Chloë Grace Moretz, a stunning girl herself, though more classically pretty (apparently more like how the character is described by King), gives Carrie an almost typical teen angst vibe - albeit a typical ten from hell kinda angst.  Moretz, who at sixteen is more age appropriate for the role (Spacek was a full decade older when she played the seventeen year old high school senior), does a fine job with the character (she is given more depth than De Palma allowed in his auteur take on the book), but let's face it, Carrie isn't the real horror of this horror show.  No siree, the real terror here is Carrie's mother-from-hell, Margaret White.  In De Palma's film, Piper Laurie gave one of the most chilling performances in the genre's long history, and here, Julianne Moore nearly equals such a feat.  The actress brings forth a vibrant, dangerous, and quite freakin' scary as hell demeanor to the role, and pulls it of with a stunning array of subtly and chutzpah.  

As for the rest of the cast, other than Judy Greer's fine take on the Betty Buckley role of good samaritan gym teacher, they are pieced together by a bunch of look-a-like pretty boys and girls with no real depth or soul amongst them. Not that Amy Irving and Nancy Allen, as good girl and bad girl respectively, were ever considered at the top of their fields, but both handed in fun performances in the original.  Hell, one of 'em even went onto marry, and later divorce, the director (the other did the same with Steven Spielberg, but another day for that tale).  And let's not forget John Travolta as Allens' ne'er-do-well boy toy.  We get none of that in the remake.  So yeah, Moretz and Moore do commendable jobs in their iconic shoe-filling, and Peirce does do some good work with her retelling of De Palma's adaptation of King's original source material, and overall, it is a passable remake, sort of something in the realm of Gus Van Sant's inexplicable and quite unnecessary near shot-for-shot Psycho remake, but without anything new being brought to the damn thing (hell, even the Footloose remake from a few years back had some balls to its retooling, so why not here!?), there is really no reason for the film to even exist, no matter how well the leads play their parts.   Then again, such a thing can be said about 98% of the remakes around today.  My suggestion?  Go out and get yourself a copy of De Palma's 1976 classic (there is a lovely Bluray on the market), and watch that instead.

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