Friday, October 18, 2013

Carrie [2013]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L)  ChicagoTribune (2 1/2 Stars) (3 Stars)  AVClub (C-)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (M. Zoller-Seitz) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Carrie [2013] (directed by Kimberly Pierce, screenplay by Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa based on the novel by Stephen King [IMDb]) by all accounts has had some pretty large blood-stained galoshes to fill.  After all, Brian DePalma's Carrie [1976] starring Sissy Spacek (then already 28 but looking youngish enough to play the role of a naive/abused 18 year old high school senior) pretty much set the bar for a generation of creepy gross-out teenage slasher revenge flicks that followed.  In contrast, Pierce's version starring Chloë Grace Moretz an actual teenager (who consequently COULD NOT BE SHOWN NUDE) has a positively quaint even "comic book" quality to it.  To be sure, IMHO the R-rating is still justified as the mother-daughter relationship between Carrie and her mom (played excellently if also far more sympathetically by Jullianne Moore in this version than the "she's _just_ a religious-crackpot" style of the 1976 version) remains, well, disturbing.  (Can the reader guess that I've _never_ been much of a fan of the 1976 version? ;-).

So I actually LIKE this new version.  And to the question "was there really a need to remake this film?"  I would answer a manifold yes:

First, I do believe that the fundamental story line of Carrie - a picked-upon teenager at school who simultaneously has to deal with "issues at home" - has always been a valid one.  Indeed in recent years, bullying has (IMHO finally) gained appropriate attention as a national problem among our nation's youth and in our schools.

Second, while the general stylistic creepiness of DePalma's 1976 version was no doubt influenced in good part by the success of the similarly über-creepy Rosemary's Baby [1968], The Exorcist [1973] and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre [1974] and 1976 was still less than a decade after the final collapse of the Production Code with a whole generation of new and since then legendary film-makers of the likes of Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather [1972], Apocalypse Now [1979]), Stanley Kubrick (The Clockwork Orange [1971], The Shining [1980]), Roman Polanski (Rosemary's Baby [1968], Chinatown [1974]) and Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver [1976], Raging Bull [1980]) in addition to Brian DePalma (who also made  Scarface [1983]) each scrambling one over the other to "prove themselves" in good part by splashing previously unimaginably violent and/or sexual imagery on the screen, 2013 is NO LONGER 1976.  "The Thrill is Gone" as famed blues guitarist B.B. King would sing.  So while certainly there remain plenty of B-movies that continue to peddle in graphic sexual and violent imagery, for a film to be taken seriously by critics and audiences alike, such graphic imagery today has to seen as somehow furthering the story.  For instance, while the violence present in Quentin Tarentino's films (one thinks of Inglorious Basterds [2009] and Django Unchained [2012]) is generally grudgingly accepted as serving a purpose to his films' plots, the gratuitous violence of his many imitators is generally dismissed as stupid.  Similarly, second generation feminism has brought the era of gratuitous nudity in Hollywood's films largely to an end.  Today's young actors and actresses are largely demanding that if they are asked to take off their clothes for some part of a film, that their exposure serve an actual purpose in the plot.  So I found the relative "comic book hokeyness" of the new 2013 version of Carrie a breath of fresh-air that will should the film more accessible to young people than the older and now heavily dated 1976 version. 

Third, while some of the creepiness of the 1976 version may now seem rather dated, it must be said that social / religious extremism has certainly made a comeback in recent decades.  Who honestly would have imagined 10-20 years ago that a significant portion of the American population would stubbornly cling as virtual articles of faith to the beliefs that Obama, the nation's current President, was _not born_ in this country, that he "palled around with terrorists," was "secretly a Muslim," and was bent on "taking away our freedom?"  Even the offices of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have organized now, two years running, a summer "Fortnight for Freedom" granting religious cover to kooks who seem to really believe that the Obama Administration is hellbent on instituting the worst excesses of the French, Russian and Mexican Revolutions (as if allowing women, Catholic and non, access to birth-control pills or granting equal rights to homosexuals is somehow equivalent to sending priests to the Gulag, blowing-up churches and shooting-up nuns.  My parents, Czech, lived under both actual Nazis and actual Communists and even I'm named after an uncle was jailed by actual said Communists in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s.  So I find the comparison of Obama to actual Communists unequivocally ridiculous).  All this is to say that IMHO it's NOT IN ANY WAY INAPPROPRIATE to revisit TODAY a story involving a deeply troubled mother who's come to hide a good deal of obvious inner turmoil behind a cover of tragically deranged theology that she tries to impose on her daughter Carrie that in the 2013 film even Carrie finds unconvincing: "But God is good mom," Carrie tries to tell her. 

Finally, there have also been social/technological developments since 1976 that incorporated into the 2013 version help make the new version feel fresher.  First, not only has bullying at school come to be seen in recent years as a national problem but even the idea that popular girls would sometimes choose to be purposefully "mean" to other girls to protect their privileged positions has been identified/popularized in recent years (Mean Girls [2004]).  Second in the new version of the film, when Carrie's classmates ridicule the naive/terrified Carrie having her first period by throwing tampons at her, Chris Hargenssen (played by Portia Doubleday) the film's chief "Mean Girl" captures the scene on her smart phone and later posts it online.  And when Carrie starts to realize that she may have telekinetic powers, she researches it, in part, on YouTube as well.  Finally, an effort is made to show in the 2013 film that not of Carrie's classmates were out to get her.  A fair number step-up at various times to defend her.  All this is to no avail as ... well if you know the story ... you know how it must ultimately end.  

The overall effect of the new version is to produce a far-less creepy "Carrie light" that while still appropriately R-rated (I do believe that parents ought to have a say in whether/how their teens see the film) is far less disturbing than the 1976 stylized/dated original.  And I do believe this to be a good thing.  As I noted at the beginning of my review here, I do believe that the fundamental story, that of a picked-upon teenager at school who also has had to deal with "significant issues at home," is a valid one.  And at the core, Carrie really deserves our sympathy.  So good job Ms Pierce and Ms Moretz, good job!

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