With the novel Carrie, I believe Stephen King may have inadvertently written one of the earliest examples of modern-day young adult fiction, in which the struggles of teenage life are either augmented with or symbolically represented by elements of the supernatural. Many more recent such novels have of late been adapted for the big screen (the Twilight saga, the Harry Potter series, Beautiful Creatures, The Mortal Instruments), and while their critical and financial successes have varied greatly, their current popularity is nevertheless evident. It makes perfect sense, then, that Carrie would get yet another cinematic adaptation.
With the exception of a proper romance, the film has just about everything the tween audiences of today could potentially respond to. This is in spite of its R rating – which, when you consider the reprehensible gun violence depicted in the PG-13-rated Jack Reacher, is just plain ridiculous.
But I think there’s more to this film’s existence than demographics. Its fantastical exploration of the pain of being a socially awkward teenager is just as relevant and relatable today as it was in 1974, when the novel was first published, and in 1976, when Brian de Palma first adapted the novel into a film. In fact, given its portrayal of a high schooler teased and tormented to the point of homicidal rage, it might even be more relevant and relatable; its message, clearly stated, that one can only be pushed so far before breaking down has been echoed by the recent real-life tragedies of Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook Elementary. Although level-headed audiences wouldn’t agree with Carrie White’s actions in the final act of the film, at this point very well known, they would nevertheless be sympathetic to her plight and understand why she snaps.
The film will inevitably be compared unfavorably to de Palma’s adaptation. This is unfortunate. It will exemplify yet again that nostalgia for an old film tends to blind audiences to a new film’s merits, to say absolutely nothing about considering the awesome possibility that a remake might have done a better job at making its point than an original. 2013’s Carrie is, in my personal opinion, the superior of the two versions (I exempt the 2002 television remake, originally intended as the pilot episode of a weekly series). It has better casting, better performances, a better sense of pacing, and a greater sense of relevancy. I won’t go into which of the two films is scarier, since I believe the story has always been incorrectly categorized into the horror genre. It may have certain horrific elements, but as a whole, it arouses more empathy than it generates scares.
Taking the reins from Sissy Spacek as the title character is Chloë Grace Moretz. Because she was only fifteen years old at the time of principal photography, the youthfulness of her role comes off as completely authentic. By youthfulness, I’m referring to more than her physical appearance; she exudes such shyness, naïveté, and hurt that, initially, she’s more like a little girl trapped in a teenager’s body. As the film progresses, we see a growing rebelliousness, and eventually, an uncontrollable fury, her years of harassment at school and abuse at home finally coming to a head at the prom. No need for me to describe what happens – chances are you already know. This new film does a better job at showing the development of her telekinetic powers; one scene shows her attempting to raise the shards of a broken bathroom mirror with her mind, while another has her alone in her room, practicing by levitating library books and her own bed.
Carrie’s religiously fanatical mother, Margaret White, was played by Piper Laurie in the 1976 film. Quite inexplicably, her atrocious overacting earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. In this new film, Margaret is played Julianne Moore, and thankfully, it’s to much greater effect. She doesn’t shy away from her character’s fanaticism, which is an essential part of the story; what she does shy away from is the temptation to inflate herself into a grotesque, borderline comedic caricature. That would have been far too easy, but more to the point, it would have been fatal to the material. Though she took a subtler approach, Moore still conveys just the right mix of menace, aggression, instability, and hopelessly skewed maternal instincts. The end result is an infinitely more believable performance.
Blood has been a persistent symbol in all versions of the story, perhaps because it ties in perfectly with the Whites’ Christian faith. Director Kimberly Peirce retains every image shown in de Palma’s film, from Carrie’s first ever period in the middle of the girls’ shower to the bucket of pig’s blood dumped on her head at the prom. Peirce takes the symbolism one step further by linking much of the blood to the pangs of birth. Sometime it’s represented literally, as it is in the opening sequence (which I will refrain from describing in detail), or with the questionable inclusion of an unplanned pregnancy. Sometimes it’s figurative, as when a character fights to break free from a locked closet door, or when Carrie painfully emerges from the prom as an entirely new person. If you need more proof that Carrie is in fact a work of young adult fiction, look no farther than that last image.