Watching a remake of any film is always a bit difficult to navigate. When the film is as iconic as Brian De Palma’s 1976 horror classic “Carrie,” though, it’s particularly daunting.
Heading into Kimberly Peirce’s adaptation of the Steven King novel, my expectations were low. I’d been hurt before by modern adaptations that value effects over substance and wasn’t looking forward to another let-down.
But, I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw. Peirce’s “Carrie” taps into parts of the story De Palma’s glazes over. While the De Palma adaptation puts viewers in the place of the “normal” characters (think Sue and Chris), Peirce puts us right into the head of the titular character. And from Carrie’s head, the story is a profoundly sadder one.
Raised by an abusive mother (played almost painfully well by Julianne Moore), Carrie (Chloë Grace Moretz) is gawky, socially stunted and emotionally constipated in a way that draws sympathy pains from your chest. But she’s not the freak you gawk at; she’s a victim of circumstance you root for.
In the film, she discovers, after a series of particularly awful acts of bullying from her peers, that she has telekenetic abilities. That power, what it represents and how it manifests, becomes one of the more important, and interesting facets of this adaptation. Paired with plentiful biblical imagery and heavy blood metaphors, the women are the true focus of this story.
Each of the main female characters in the film becomes defined by her sexuality in a way that’s almost archetypal.
We have Carrie, ignorant of her womanhood — apparent in the scene where she gets her period in the shower and thinks she’s bleeding to death; her mother, a religious zealot who conceived her daughter via marital rape; Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde), the virginal but-not-quite “nice” girl who pities Carrie and convinces her boyfriend/baby daddy (played by the scene stealing Ansel Elgort) to take her to prom and Chris Hargensen (played by Portia Doubleday who embodies every high school mean girl with just a bit more malice) who is probably the most sexual but more at fault for her choice in partner, the straight-up sociopathic Billy Nolan (Alex Russell).
Sue being the only survivor of the film could lead it to becoming a heavy-handed warning about the golden mean of sexuality: moderation and ownership of sexuality being ideal over ignorance, shame or promiscuity. I don’t think that’s all that awful of a message, but I’m not one for the overly-didactic, borderline slut-shamey messages, so I’ll focus on the good.
The narrative itself treats Carrie’s self-discovery more like a superero origin story than the creation of a movie monster. And that’s probably what struck me most.
I felt that this adaptation understood Carrie more and wanted the audience to see her as a more sympathetic and empathetic character. It seemed to understand the psychological horror of girl-on-girl crime in a particularly striking way without overly dramatizing the casual cruelty of high school girls. It’s a senseless sort of malice that finds a balance between excusing her prom night meltdown and making strides to understand it.
But, that iconic prom scene where Carrie experiences one moment of true happiness only to be doused in pig’s blood, captures the range of emotions and the agonizing sort of pain people can inflict on one another. And that, oddly enough, is the most horrifying part.