MATT ZOLLER SEITZ, WALTER CHAW POSITIVE ON NEW FILM
Walter Chaw, Film Freak Central
"If you were to boil down Brian De Palma's work, at least his earlier work, into a few ideas, you'd land on the way he took Hitchcock's subterranean perversions and made them perversion perversions, transforming pieces and suggestions into themes and declarations. Looking at De Palma's Carrie today, what's there is a clear attempt--often successful--to elevate B-movie tropes to the status high art, or high pulp: What Godard did to gangster films, De Palma did to Hitchcock, turning the already formal into formalism. When De Palma was at his best, his movies evoked in daylight what Hitchcock inspired in shadow. Of its many technical innovations, his Carrie, an adaptation of Stephen King's not-very-good but vibe-y debut novel, was aided immeasurably by pitch-perfect casting: Sissy Spacek, P.J. Soles, John Travolta, Amy Irving, and Nancy Allen. Hip then, it's hip still--and sexy as hell, as befitting a story that's ultimately about a girl's sexual awakening and, let's face it, really bangin' first orgasm. On prom night, no less. What could be more American?
"Kimberly Peirce's Carrie isn't sexually perverse like De Palma's. Its sexiness is entirely the dewy kind--the difference between porn and couple's porn, if you will. Both will get you off, but there's less guilt attached to the latter. I hated the idea of Peirce for this remake--I thought Boys Don't Cry was didactic and kitschy, on the nose if not nearly as on the nose as getting her to do another abused-teenager movie. Except that Peirce's Carrie does something De Palma's doesn't do nearly so well: it describes Carrie's headspace, so that her telekinesis becomes expressionistic. Her power is an extension of her as she explores it late at night, alone in her bedroom--a way that she becomes, as she calls it, 'a whole person,' at last. Peirce even manages to understand Carrie's chief tormentor Kris (Portia Doubleday), demonstrating a high level of empathy that allows this new adaptation to be something more than a man's version of a girl's revenge movie. Take how the two pictures open: De Palma's with a volleyball game transitioning into a soft-porn push-in to a girl's locker room (he'd do this same Psycho thing, with more fetish if you can imagine (and you don't have to), in Dressed to Kill). It's naughty, let's face it. Peirce's volleyball game is played in a pool, and the subsequent locker-room explosion allows a wider tableau for the girls' cruel reaction to Carrie's first period and, with it, the possibility for balance--and for multiple identifications, including feminine body horror...
"Where Margaret was essentially an evil, evangelical witch in De Palma's film, she's a more dangerous sort of nut in Peirce's: a fundamentalist so askew that she gives birth alone while praying for death. Carrie 2013 resists the instinct to vilify, to reach for loud, screeching hysteria as a feminine-madness catch-all. Consider the same moment in both films where Margaret declares to a polite neighbour that 'we live in godless times,' how in the De Palma it's as Margaret is proselytizing and asking for a donation, while in this one she's humiliated, surreptitiously cutting herself. If it's still hysteria, it's of the more introverted, self-directed kind--the maelstrom is inside this Margaret, and she's put it into Carrie. Margaret is no longer interloper but shut-in, a quieter infection. Or how about the poetry-class sequence that inverts the writer of the verse, making Tommy the critic, the white knight of a slightly different sort who recognizes that the teacher, more than a harmless blowhard, is a frustrated old man teaching a classroom full of nubile girls, right on the verge. At the centre, though, is Moretz, who, along with Elle Fanning and Saoirse Ronan, offers a bright, shining hope for the future--and the present, as it happens. She's heartbreaking in this role. Her fear, her nervousness, her embarrassment, and that moment where Tommy asks her to the prom (the second time) and all the world...floats in happy sympathy. There's more purpose in this Carrie; like the best of King's writing, as it happens, it's not obvious that the whole thing isn't a metaphor for trauma. It's not a B-movie at all--not prurient, it's deadly serious, and when Carrie erupts, as Carrie must, it's archetype, not circus. The irony of it is that De Palma's film shares the view of Carrie as a freak; Peirce's sees her as a little girl lost, eaten alive by the burden of fanaticism, class, beauty, biology. The De Palma is about Sue and Kris, the Peirce is about Carrie herself--and therein lies all the difference."
Matt Zoller Seitz, RogerEbert.com
"Where Brian De Palma's 1976 version of Stephen King's novel was a teenage girl's nightmare as seen through the eyes of a straight male voyeur, this one looks through a wider lens, and strikes more universal notes of sympathy. (Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers ahead.)...
"For all the psychological realism of Carrie and Margaret's relationship, however, this remake has a comic book feeling. Peirce has turned Carrie into dark, sick take on a superhero origin story, complete with wide-angle lenses and God's-eye-view shots and poetic sound effects (when Margaret is near, Carrie 'hears' her before she sees her, thanks to a high-pitched whine that's like a dog whistle). Whole sequences have a Clark-Kent-in-Smallville feeling. What would have become of Superman had he been a girl raised by an insane single parent? He'd might have endured being called a freak for years until he finally snapped and roasted the football team...
"Perhaps because this Carrie is helmed by one of the only prominent female directors in Hollywood, Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry), it appreciates Carrie and her mother and the heroine's various female adversaries as women, and portrays their brand of cruelty as specifically female. For example, where the girls in the 1976 Carrie tormented the menstruating heroine in the shower in a wolf-pack manner, as teenaged boys might attack another teenage boy, the shower attack in this film is a joke that originates in embarrassment and nausea, then snowballs. (Peirce doesn't show nudity; this time it's all about the girls' emotions.)
"Peirce and screenwriters Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa give the whole film this kind of heartfelt, inside-out re-imagining. Class differences play a part in Carrie's mistreatment; a few early shots establish that Carrie and Margaret live far from the obviously privileged high school, in a modest neighborhood. And as the tale nears its inevitable climax, the tone becomes more despairing. Nothing can stop what's coming.
"It's on this last point, though, that Carrie falters most conspicuously—and ironically, its failure is a product of its decision to depart from the novel and the first film, but without going far enough. Peirce's version sometimes makes Chris seem a bit of a victim, too, by implying that she was spoiled rotten by her yuppie dad—played by a perfectly cast Hart Bochner, a.k.a. Ellis from Die Hard. This is a good impulse, but the movie doesn't properly follow through on it. The script has Chris be exaggeratedly 'evil' when it serves the plot, but life-sized elsewhere. This version strands the supporting characters between realism and archetype, an awkward spot.
"Still, there's a lot to like in this remake. It's sincerely interested in exploring the pain that its characters suffer and inflict. And when Carrie unleashes the full brunt of her powers, it's a magnificent and appalling spectacle—the teenage sci-fi rampage that the 'X-Men' films never dared show us.
"Not for nothing does Carrie check out library books on magic as well as paranormal power: when she becomes a gore-drenched avenging angel, her gestures become more ritualized, almost dancer-like—as if she's not just committing gruesome murders, but in some sense 'presenting' them, as a performer might. The movie links Carrie's burgeoning power to creativity, watching her develop her gifts until, at the end, she is assured enough to preside over a combination Grand Guignol play and art exhibit. The prom is a masterpiece of mixed-media slaughter, Hellraiser by way of Columbine. Each killing is a discrete work employing different media and techniques: death by psychic assault, by trampling, by electrocution, by fire, by face-through-glass. As Walter Chaw writes, 'Peirce's Carrie does something De Palma's doesn't do nearly so well: it describes Carrie's headspace, so that her telekinesis becomes expressionistic.'
"Curiously, for such a secular movie, this Carrie lends Biblical significance to every blood drop spilled. Original sin is never far from its mind. Margaret's original sin was having sex with Carrie's father, an event she describes as a violation even though it was just a case of husband and wife doing what husbands and wives do. The community's original sin was attacking Carrie in the shower, humiliating her for manifesting signs of Eve's 'curse.' After that, they were thrown out of the garden of their innocence, or ignorance; each counterplot or attempt to make amends is a doomed attempt to return to the garden. Carrie's original sin was being born. She is born again at the prom, kills the woman who gave birth to her, and dies that very night.
"The first "Carrie" was horror. This is tragedy."
AND HEADING TOWARD THE OTHER SIDE OF THE OPINION SPECTRUM...
Rob Vaux, Mania
"'They laughed at me.'
"It’s possibly the most heartbreaking line in movie history, a wail of despair from a bullied, persecuted, utterly friendless soul who has just brought the walls of Jericho tumbling down. It’s the cry of Carrie White – and by extension every outcast who ever felt the sting of casual cruelty. In her, Stephen King created the ultimate victim, then handed her a hydrogen bomb and pointed it at the sneering cretins of the world. Carrie turned him into a household name, but it took Brian De Palma (with a lot of help from Sissy Spacek) to really, truly capture what it was all about. The constant terror. The powerless wards against blows that could fall at any time. The tearful hand held out for someone – anyone – to show a little kindness and the smoldering fury left behind when no one does.
"It was perfect, as perfect a horror film as you could find, which is part of why this new version fails almost as soon as it leaves the gate. It couldn’t possibly match its predecessor, or even come close. But with a little more insight, it might have at least found few new things to say about the story. You can see them hovering around the edges, with helicoptering parents and humiliations shared with the world on YouTube. But director Kimberly Peirce can’t find anywhere to go with her new concepts, and clings to the old ones too closely to break out of De Palma shadow. Too many scenes stick to close to his. Too many conversations are repeated too closely. And while Peirce clearly understands the material, she can’t find the painful sympathy necessary to convey its message.
"It really comes down to who the creators identify with. King himself always claimed he was Susan Snell (played here by Gabriella Wilde): the well-meaning bystander who regrets her part in Carrie’s pain and tries to make amends. Peirce gravitates towards Coach Desjardin (Judy Greer), another sympathetic figure who works to protect Carrie from her peers to no avail. They both see the story one step removed. Only De Palma latched on to Carrie herself, displaying her tearful existence for all of us to see and daring us to look aside...
"Peirce loses her nerve with distressing regularity, pulling her punches when she should be going for the throat. This is an R-rated film and yet it feels very PG-13; God forbid they do something daring at the cost of a few teenage dollars.
"Take, for example, Carrie’s chief tormentor Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday), she of the infamous bucket of pig’s blood. Here, she hesitates in her barbs from time to time, goaded by her boyfriend Billy (Alex Russell) rather than being the ultimate mean girl she’s really supposed to be. Peirce is going for well-roundedness, but it ends up letting Chris off the hook a little bit. Bullies never dwell on their bullying; they just cast their victims aside and move on to whatever pain their own life holds. Peirce misses that here, and it proves a fatal decision. Carrie suffers from a number of similar issues, from the pro forma recreation of De Palma’s iconic images to a climax that loses the apocalyptic tragedy it desperately needs."
David Edelstein, Vulture
"Apart from an early scene with a cartoonish high school principal, Brian De Palma’s 1976 Carrie is well-nigh perfect — a lyric, Expressionistic horror classic with the greatest female performance (by Sissy Spacek) in genre history and a supporting turn (by Piper Laurie) that’s not too far behind it. (I could go on and on about Amy Irving, Nancy Allen, darling P.J. Soles, John Travolta, etc.) Above all, it’s a movie that takes no prisoners. The well-meaning die as gruesomely as the malevolent. The one character left alive is probably too damaged to recover. As much of a hot dog as De Palma is (few directors are as gleefully virtuosic), he rarely takes off into a solipsistic sphere: Every trick both delights him and heightens his characters’ emotions.
"I won’t pretend I wasn’t incensed when I heard about a Carrie remake in the works, but I went in with an open mind and heart. The director, Kimberly Peirce, could in theory provide the one thing De Palma couldn’t — a female gaze — and the ideas she explored in Boys Don’t Cry about gender and female self-image made it likely she’d at least bring something new to the party. Based on the finished movie, though, I’m wondering if she had any say in what finally hit the screen.
"The new Carrie isn’t atrocious — just flat and uninspired and compromised by the kind of mindless teen-movie 'humanism' that De Palma so punkishly spat on. (It’s atrocious by comparison.)"