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Friday, October 26, 2012

CARRIE (2002) -- movie review by porfle

(NOTE: This review originally appeared online in 2007 at  Yet another remake, this time starring Chloe Grace Moretz in the title role, will be hitting the big screen in the near future.  Those who haven't seen either the 1976 or 2007 version should be advised that spoilers abound.)

A remake of a classic film is like a box of chocolates--you never know what you're gonna to get.  (I just made that up.)

Some people hate the very idea of remaking a movie which they feel should be regarded as a unique work with no need for reinterpretation, and bemoan the dearth of new and original ideas that spawns so many remakes in the first place. Others contend that a remake doesn't "replace" the original, so what's the problem if someone simply makes a new version?

I fall about halfway between the two camps. For example, I thought the remake of THE FOG was pretty bad, and wholly unnecessary, and the less said about Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot remake of PSYCHO, the better. But I liked the new DAWN OF THE DEAD and THIRTEEN GHOSTS. Cronenberg's THE FLY is one of my favorite horror movies, as is John Carpenter's THE THING.

If the story and overall approach are different enough to warrant interest on their own, and the reinterpretation of the previous film contains original ideas and fresh ways of looking at the subject, then a remake can definitely be a worthwhile companion, or supplement, to the original. Which is how I feel about the 2002 TV-movie CARRIE, a remake of Brian DePalma's morbid masterwork from 1976.

Seeing the used DVD for sale at Blockbuster, with a cover photo of Angela Bettis in her blood-soaked prom dress, piqued my curiosity. How could anyone pull off a remake of such a well-known and popular film as the original version?

So I picked it up and gave it a whirl, not really expecting much. It wasn't long before I could see that this is a very different take on the original, with enough differences in story and style to make it worth watching on its own.

The basic story is the same--Carrie White (Bettis), a painfully shy high school nobody with an overbearingly religious mother, is endlessly tormented by the popular kids. When her first menstrual period kicks in one day in the shower after gym class, the clueless Carrie, whose mother never told her that this would happen to her someday, thinks she's dying and freaks out.

The other girls have a field day taunting and humiliating her, and later on her mother, Margaret (Patricia Clarkson), tells her that her sinful thoughts and deeds have brought on this "curse of blood" and drags her kicking and screaming into a closet to pray for deliverance. But Carrie merely takes out her hidden stash of teen magazines and dreams of being like a "normal" teenager.

Carrie's sympathetic gym teacher, Miss Desjarden (Rena Sofer), subjects the rest of the girls to a hellish week of detention for their treatment of Carrie, and one of the more popular girls, Chris (Emilie de Ravin), who gets banished from the upcoming prom for her refusal to attend detention or show any remorse whatsoever, plots revenge against Carrie.

Meanwhile, Sue Snell (Kandyse McClure), who feels sorry for Carrie and regrets her bullying, enlists her handsome jock boyfriend Tommy Ross (Tobias Mehler) to ask Carrie to the prom and give her an evening she'll never forget.

But when Chris finds out about this, her revenge takes shape. She gets her juvenile delinquent boyfriend Billy Nolan (Jesse Cadotte) to help her slaughter a pig and drain its blood. Then she plots to have Tommy and Carrie elected King and Queen of the prom, and while they're standing on the stage receiving their accolades, Chris will pull a rope that will overturn a bucket hidden in the rafters, drenching Carrie with the pig's blood.

What she doesn't know, however, is that Carrie has been exhibiting an increasingly powerful ability to move things with her mind--"telekinesis", Carrie discovers after an internet search--and this final humiliation will unleash her powers upon everyone at the prom, with devastating results.

Bryan Fuller's teleplay offers a fresh look at the story by drawing more heavily from Stephen King's novel than the original version. Most of it is told in flashback as survivors of the prom are questioned by Detective John Mulcahey (David Keith, AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN, FIRESTARTER), and it's interesting to see how the various versions of events begin to fall into place even as the actual cause of the prom disaster remains a baffling mystery. All he knows is that everyone involved seems to believe that it all has something to do with Carrie.

Another nice touch from the novel, which DePalma ultimately had to scrub from his version, is a scene showing Carrie as a little girl, curiously asking the sunbathing young woman next door about her breasts. ("Mommy calls them her 'dirty pillows', says Carrie, "and she says good girls don't get them.") While being punished by her wrathful mother for consorting with the "slut", Carrie unintentionally wills the house to be bombarded by flaming meteorites that she has called down from the sky (stones in the novel), as shutters slam open and shut and furniture crashes through the windows.

Later, as the teenaged Carrie nervously paces the floor waiting for Tommy to arrive for their prom date, all the furniture in the house rises up and hovers over the floor, and when the doorbell rings it all comes down with a crash.

Director David Carson (STAR TREK:GENERATIONS) uses handheld, off-kilter camerawork throughout which distinguishes the film's visuals from DePalma's more classical style and effectively gives us a sense of the way Carrie sees things from her unstable viewpoint--her whole life seems to be a waking nightmare.

However, this quirky, off-balance look is also used for a lot of scenes that don't involve Carrie, so are we supposed to feel that the whole world is teetering on the verge of chaos? I think these scenes would've worked better if done in a more traditional style, to contrast with those involving Carrie.  Much of what happens after the prom, in fact, is shot in the latter style, as though the catharsis of the experience, despite the horror and guilt she suffers from it, has finally given Carrie a stabilizing inner focus.

Interestingly, there are a few scenes, such as Carrie's famous shower, where Carson seems to duplicate some of DePalma's camera angles. It's as though he's saying, "This can't be done any better, so I'm not going to do it differently just to be arbitrarily different."

The prom sequence itself is pretty fascinating, if only for a chance to see how Carson and Fuller manage to do something substantially different from the familiar DePalma version. It isn't nearly as formally constructed and shot, and there's less of a fairytale quality to Carrie's "dream date" with Tommy--we simply see a very happy girl in a more naturalistic environment, while Tommy is portrayed more as a regular nice guy than the ultimate Prince Charming.

But our joy at seeing Carrie's dreams finally coming true is the same, and the scene in which she gently brushes Tommy's shoulder so that she can tentatively place her cheek against it while they dance is heartbreaking.

When all hell finally breaks loose (and those of you who either haven't seen the first movie or read the book probably should skip a few paragraphs), the sequence is rife with new elements that help it stand on its own alongside DePalma's tour-de-force. A fantasy sequence showing Tommy and Carrie in a romantic spotlight dance as King and Queen of the prom is cut short when Carrie notices a drop of blood falling on her hand. She looks up, and--SPLAT--the pig's blood hits its mark, traumatizing her and setting loose her telekinetic powers.

A force wave ripples outward to push back the crowd, the doors slam shut, and people start to die. Old scores are settled, while the innocent suffer as well. Fires rage as columns of CGI flame rise toward the ceiling. Water from the overhead sprinklers and burst pipes begins to mix with electricity in very hazardous ways. Panicked teens crowded at the doorways and caught in the middle of the gym floor freeze in their tracks and die like flies.

The resourceful Miss Desjardin, meanwhile, has pried the cover off a ventilator shaft and is trying to get as many people off the killing floor and out of the gym as she can. The last one to go, she tips over the chair she's standing on and finds herself hanging from the shaft's opening over the electrified floor, inches from death.

Carrie begins her slow walk toward the front door as the water parts for her (for a TV-movie, some of the CGI is pretty good). As she leaves the gym, the camera rises to show the raging flames finally engulf the collapsing roof. It's here that we get to see something from the book that was left out of the original film--Carrie's destruction of most of the town itself during her long walk home.

Some of the CGI here is sorta fake-looking, but I went along with it. An overhead shot of the devastation is pretty cool, as is the fate of Chris and Billy as they have their final encounter with Carrie.

What ultimately happens between Carrie and her mother is different here than in DePalma's film (again, closer to the book), and not nearly as flamboyantly cinematic, but I liked it anyway, and the performance of Angela Bettis (MAY, TOOLBOX MURDERS) helped make it work. She's awesome as Carrie. Her fugue states while in the thrall of her telekinetic powers are very convincing, as is the helpless, yearning despair she shows while so utterly failing to fit in with her peers. She makes the character her own just as much as Sissy Spacek did before her, giving us a Carrie that in no way suffers in comparison.

One major difference is that Bettis' Carrie is more effectively shown to be much less willful in the use of her powers--when she awakens from her trance in a bathtub filled with blood-red water, she's horrified at what she might have done.

The rest of the cast is fine as well. With the spectre of Piper Laurie's amazingly over-the-top portrayal of Margaret White looming over her, Patricia Clarkson goes in the opposite direction and gives us the same character with a cold, unsettling calmness that belies the simmering religious fanaticism within. Kandyse McClure is a sassy, self-confident Sue Snell, while Emilie de Ravin is the equal of Nancy Allen as the spiteful bitch Chris.

While I prefer Betty Buckley as the gym teacher (goodness, was she ever hot), Rena Sofer is quite up to the task, especially when she's very aggressively putting the cowering Chris in her place. And Jesse Cadotte's Billy Nolan has a much more psychotic edge than John Travolta's somewhat likably-goofy portrayal.

Alas, as I discovered after seeing this for the first time, the TV-movie version of CARRIE was intended as, of all things, a pilot for a series, which necessitated a contrived, open ending that's different from both the '76 version and the novel. There's a half-hearted attempt at a final "shock" to match the one that had audiences of the original film jumping out of their seats, but it doesn't quite work, followed by the set-up for the series (which was never to be, due to low ratings for this movie).

It's nice in a way, I guess, to let Carrie have a more optimistic fate after all she's been through, but it would've been even nicer if the movie could have followed through with its own particular conviction to the very end. But this one fault notwithstanding, I can say, as a devoted fan of the original CARRIE, that this remake is a surprisingly solid effort and deserves to be seen and appreciated on its own terms.

Buy it at


1 comment:

Gene Phillips said...

Excellent points about the different approaches of dePalma and Carson, with the latter being much more attached to the now-inescapable 'handheld camera' schtick. I was just as glad he didn't attempt dePalma's use of split screens.

I've the same basic opinion as you re: remakes. It all hinges on how well one does it.