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Review: Carrie (2013)

Carrie (2013)

Directed by: Kimberly Peirce

Premise: An adaptation of the novel by Stephen King. A shy teenage girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) suffers at the hands of her high school classmates and her puritanical mother (Julianne Moore) but she discovers that she has a gift for telekinesis.

What Works: Carrie is a classic story and this version tells it competently. The story of Carrie is still effective almost four decades after the publication of the original novel in part because it has at its center a memorable and empathetic character and because it plays on deeply embedded truths and fears about adolescence, female sexuality, and the traumatic social experience of high school. In adapting Carrie for a contemporary audience, filmmaker Kimberley Peirce and screenwriters Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa have reimagined the story to suit a contemporary audience while retaining the key elements that make it work in the first place. This is done well without feeling forced and the film is rarely anachronistic. Something this version of Carrie does especially well is casting actors who look like high school students. In so many Hollywood films (including the 1976 version of Carrie) teenagers are played by actors who are obviously in their mid-twenties and don’t possess the physical and behavioral qualities unique to teenagers. This version of Carrie does that well, adding integrity to the movie. Also contributing to this film’s credibility is the use of social media, as Carrie is victimized not only in person but indirectly through online platforms. Aside from updating Carrie for the contemporary pop cultural milieu the social media of this version also gives the film a contemporary relevance, as it picks up on the popular handwringing over high school bullying. The new version of Carrie also features some notable performances. Among them is Julianne Moore as Carrie’s puritanical mother. Much has been made of Piper Laurie’s performance in the 1976 film, and deservedly so, but Moore’s characterization matches the villainy with some empathy, as it becomes clear that this woman was also a victim of trauma. The picture also features impressive turns by Judy Greer as a gym teacher and Barry Shabaka Henley as the principle. Greer embodies the possibility of hope while Henley contributes some appropriate comic relief as a high school principle who is unable to talk about menstruation.

What Doesn’t: Despite all that this version of Carrie has going for it, the filmmakers commit several critical mistakes. The most serious problem is the casting of Chloe Grace Moretz in the title role. Moretz is a terrific actress and her performance here is quite good. The problem is that she is (for lack of a better word) too pretty. The character of Carrie works best when she is portrayed as a homely young woman, the kind of person who would never be asked to prom. Moretz, even when she is made to look awkward, still comes across as a young woman who would be asked prom and so the movie undermines its most important element. The new version of Carrie also suffers from a lack of viciousness. The teasing is bad but in adapting the film for a new audience the filmmakers should have taken this further. The viciousness is especially lacking in the ending. In superior versions of this story the mayhem unleashed by Carrie’s trauma is like a force of nature that destroys everything in her path. In the 2013 film she is too conscious of her actions and so she comes off more like a superhero than a troubled teenager. This new film also repeats too much of the 1976 film. It goes through the familiar motions of the Carrie story but it lacks a style of its own and frequently reconstructs imagery from the earlier version (and at least one element from the 1999 sequel) but to lesser effect.

Bottom Line: The 2013 version of Carrie isn’t terrible but it isn’t especially memorable either. Discerning viewers will probably want to opt for the superior 1976 version but this picture does retell this story competently and effectively.

Episode: #462 (October 27, 2013)