Thursday, October 17, 2013

No one deserves a prom like this

Updated remake of Carrie misses the mark.
It has been 37 years since the release of Brian DePalma's iconic adaptation of Stephen King's Carrie, a movie that made the most of a young Sissy Spacek's capacity to convey near-spectral weirdness.

I can't think of many ways in which director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry) matches DePalma with her version of the story, an updated, over-cooked remake.

Revamped to include cell phones and a vicious case of cyber-bullying, Peirce's movie centers on 16-year-old Carrie, played by Chloe Grace Moretz with only occasional effectiveness.

In this version, Moretz becomes less the ultimate outcast than an advocate for acceptance of those who are different, but who simultaneously yearn for peer-sanctioned normalcy.

Julianne Moore proves even weirder as Carrie's guilt-ridden, insanely religious mother, a role played by Piper Laurie in the original.

The movie begins with a scene in which Moore's Margaret White gives birth to Carrie, a baby she believes to be the embodiment of evil. Only Carrie's newborn cuteness saves her from mom's murderous knife.

The movie then leaps ahead to Carrie's high-school years. By this time, the love/hate relationship between mother and daughter has settled into its own horrific pattern. When Moore's Margaret believes the teen-aged Carrie needs a dose of discipline -- pretty much whenever the kid does anything normal -- Mom locks her in a closet and insists that she prays.

Not surprisingly, Peirce ups the special-effects ante from the 1976 version, presumably to make Carrie's telekinetic skills all-the-more convincing. You remember, right? Carrie has ferocious mental powers.

The movie's amped-up effects backfire, creating a visual environment that can seem more suited to generic horror than to a movie that's trying to break through genre constraints: Carrie seems to want to explore the dangers of adolescent cruelty, the perils accompanying a young woman's emerging sexuality and the twisted but powerful bond between mother and daughter.

The pivotal event in the movie involves Carrie's first encounter with menstruation, which terrifies her and also provides her schoolmates with an excuse for mocking expressions of scorn, mostly orchestrated by the sadistic Chris (Portia Doubleday).

The movie conflates Carrie's hormonal maturation and the dawning of her increasingly powerful ability to use her mind to manipulate objects in the external world.

Not everyone in Carrie's life is a total jerk. Pretty-girl Sue (Gabriella Wilde) initially goes along with the cruel crowd, but eventually displays a little conscience. Sue's popular boyfriend Tommy (Ansel Elgort) has a good heart. Judy Greer portrays Carrie's sympathetic gym teacher.

Of course, Peirce includes the famous prom scene, now a staple of many horror movies about teen-agers. She dumps the obligatory amount of pig's blood and adds enough vengeful, Carrie-initiated fury to flood the screen with carnage.

But for me, the sight of a blood-drenched Moretz wreaking havoc on her classmates generated neither fear nor pity. It made me wonder whether Moretz was lost as Carrie or at sea in an ill-fitting role?

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