OCTOBER 30, 2013
Any hope that the remake of Carrie would overcome the odds and manage to convince me it had a creative reason to exist was erased literally the second the film began, as the first credit appeared and I recognized the "Trajan" font that has become synonymous with generic studio horror over the past decade. Sure, they used it in the ads as well, but the fact that they went all in and put it in the movie practically shouted at me, loud and clear, "This is another reason why people will hate on remakes, sorry." And you might think I'm being ridiculous to lose all hope in a movie because of its damn font, but since the next 90 minutes did nothing but confirm I was right, over and over again, maybe you can give me the benefit of the doubt, eh?
Indeed, the most fascinating thing about the movie was how bland and mechanical it was. Director Kimberly Peirce and screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa repeatedly said over the past year or so (the movie was delayed 6 months for reasons still unknown, unless it was the obvious: "It's not very good so let's put it out at Halloween when people will see anything genre-related.") that they weren't remaking Brian De Palma's film but going back to the original text, which is all I can hope for with such things. As I've explained a million times before, I don't consider Carpenter's The Thing to be a remake any more than I do Coppola's Dracula - it's a new take on written material, with anything in common from a previous movie more coincidental than anything. But there's no way in hell you could believe that here; every single thing that De Palma and his screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen changed from Stephen King's novel has been magically changed again here - even the things that didn't quite work when they did it in 1976 (SPOILER: Mrs. White once again dies in a Christ-pose courtesy of a dozen or so telekinetically thrown knives). This is probably why Cohen once again has screenwriting credit even though he didn't work on the film - this is not common for remakes even of movies that AREN'T adapted from books or whatever (the only times I can recall it happening are The Hitcher and The Omen remakes), so the fact that he's still getting credited for HIS adaption is pretty telling.
In fact, the only things that I can see that were taken from the book and NOT in De Palma's (if they were in the 2002 TV movie, I don't know - still haven't seen it) are superfluous. One is the fact that Sue Snell is pregnant, a "plot point" that amounts to exactly one line of dialogue and one moment of morning sickness for which we are led to believe her guilt was to blame. Another I wouldn't even have noticed if not for the fact that De Palma's version "spoke" to me - the gym teacher's name has been reverted back to Desjardin after De Palma/Cohen switched it to the much cooler name of "Collins". And that's pretty much it - there isn't a single thing from the book that we didn't get to see in 1976. It truly baffles me that with the bigger budget and advances in FX that they couldn't think of anything of note to do differently during the TK sequences, especially with CGI at their disposal to pull off things that would have been impossible then. The non-destruction of the town is a huge puzzle - in the book, Carrie destroys the entire city, pretty much, but this movie, as with the original, limits her carnage to the school and a bit of the surrounding area (a few minor explosions from sewer holes and a sinkhole on one street), plus her house.
I also didn't get why they didn't use the book's framing device, which had it all in flashback. Not only would it have been proof that they were truly going from King's text, but it also would have been more modern - the "start at the end" thing is a pretty common trope these days (too common, if you ask me), but often it's not very justified; it just tells us who lives and spoils part of its own ending more often than not. But some random survivor (not difficult; apart from the people I've already mentioned, no one has much of a character here - there isn't even a "Norma" type standin among the girls) telling the tale, over shots of a completely decimated town - that would actually WORK. But no, apart from a scene of Mrs. White giving birth (the most significant "from the book!" element), the movie begins and ends exactly the same, failing to make use of its source material at every turn. Even when things seem like they might be a bit different, Peirce and Sacasa hold back - the girls are playing volleyball in the pool this time, and thus I thought they'd have Carrie have her period there, letting the blood mix with the blue water for a disturbing visual, but no. They go into the shower room (in 2013? That even still happen anywhere?) and things proceed as you'd expect.
So is it any good? Let's assume that I'm the target audience, i.e. teenagers who haven't seen the original (or read the book, but come on, does that need to be clarified in this day and age?). In that case, yeah, it's fine I guess. At the risk of sounding pervy, I don't understand the point of giving the role of Carrie to the most attractive girl in the cast, but Chloe Moretz does a fine job of earning our sympathies, while also fumbling about awkwardly enough for us to understand why the boys wouldn't at least give her a second look (she's less effective in the 3rd act; I don't think ANYONE can pull off moving their arms around REALLY HARD to show telekinesis - probably why they didn't have Sissy Spacek do it). And the rest of the girls are sufficiently horrible without going too overboard into cartoon villainy (though Chris' boyfriend, played by some guy with nowhere near the charisma of John Travolta, comes close), with bonus points for casting Hart "Ellis" Bochner as Chris' dad - a fine shorthand for an audience to understand she comes from an entitled upbringing. The less said about Julianne Moore, however, the better - her over-the-top scenery chewing most definitely will not earn her an Oscar nomination (a Razzie might not be out of the question), though it makes Judy Greer (as Desjardin) shine even brighter by comparison; if there's any reason for a fan of the original to see this, it might be her.
But a younger audience might be just as confused as I was as to how old-fashioned it was. Apart from the "plug it up!" scene being filmed with a camera phone, it's a bizarrely outdated film - the same character with the iPhone at one point even runs home to check her email, as if it wasn't something she can do with her portable device. And when Sue has to make her mad dash to the prom to stop Carrie from being humiliated, she does so by driving, looking around for a way to get into the school, etc - rather than just text her boyfriend the news. Fuck, I'm sick to death of found footage, but there's a way to do the finale that way that would have actually worked on a narrative level (and again, would have been a good way to update the novel's flashback structure), and yet it goes curiously unexplored. It's not uncommon to wonder why a not-great movie didn't do this or that when you're removed from it, but wondering AS IT'S HAPPENING is a sure sign of a film that has completely failed to engage the audience. Hell, I'm not exactly an expert on De Palma's film (I've only seen it twice) or the novel (read once, at least a decade ago), so considering my poor memory I should have been able to more or less "forget" how everything turned out, but the movie's insistence on sticking to the previous film just kept giving me deja vu. Hell even with The Omen (a closer copy) there were a couple of "re-surprise" moments, but I never once got that here. Only the occasional line (like a rather funny one about Tim Tebow) let me know that they HAD indeed written some semblance of a new script. So it's got one up on Psycho '98, I'll give it that much, but to me a good remake should interest viewers new and old - this one almost goes out of its way to alienate the latter.
And then they twist the knife one last time, offering up a ridiculous shot of a tombstone cracking (via not-very-good CGI) to close the film in place of one of the all time great final scares in horror history. But in a way it's kind of perfect; the film starts on something new and ends on something the same only worse, precisely mirroring the likely intentions of Peirce and her cast. It wouldn't surprise me if the studio demanded something "safer" (while still - admirably - R-rated), and certainly the recent (re)wave of school shootings probably didn't help the movie any, but I didn't pay 8 bucks (matinee!) for their initial ideas. With so many paths they could have chosen, they took the least effective one at every turn, and the film's less-than-stellar box office performance - without a single competitor in a year that horror has been doing quite well - proves that their non-risk didn't pay off. Next time do it right or don't do it at all.
What say you?