Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Review: Carrie

Version I Watched: Netflix streaming of the theatrical cut.

History: This is the third adaptation of Stephen King's first published book of the same name. Carrie was first adapted to film in 1976 and is considered a horror classic. The next adaptation was a TV movie in 2002. The story was rarely touched outside that, the only others being an attempted stage musical in 1988, a sequel to the 1976 movie released in 1999, and the 2002 made for TV movie intended to start a TV series. With that in mind this new adaptation is technically only the third released adaptation since the book came out in 1974.
When this new adaptation was announced Stephen King himself asked, "Why? When the original was so good?" But shortly thereafter suggested Lindsay Lohan be cast as Carrie. It was eventually given to Chloe Grace Moretz, which marks the first time Carrie was played by actual teenager. Moretz was 15 when filming, whereas all previous Carrie actresses were in their late 20's.
While intended to be a more faithful adaptation, the response was that it took quite a bit from the 1976 adaptation instead. Overall it received mixed reviews almost literally cut down the middle at a 49% per Rotten Tomatoes. Despite the mixed reviews it was still a financial hit. It was made on a $30 million budget and earned back just under $84 million worldwide.
The blu-ray release contains and alternate opening and ending. The alternate opening was based on a scene from the book from when Carrie was a child. The alternate ending isn't strictly based on a scene from the book, but expands on a briefly mentioned sub-plot.

Personal History: First viewing of this adaptation. I did see the 1976 version many years ago. So long ago I barely remember it. I may have seen the 2002 TV movie version as well but I don't remember. Lastly, I've never read the book despite being a big fan of Stephen King's work.

Review: In case you jumped straight to this section and not the initial details, I feel I should point something out for this review. It has been years since I've seen the 1976 Carrie. So many that I barely remember it. I don't remember if I've seen the 2002 TV movie version and I've never read the book. So my Carrie knowledge is very limited. Meaning this will be reviewed strictly on it's own merits and the little, hardened knowledge I have about the older movie and source material.
I'm actually thankful of this. Sometimes a new adaptation of a book can be a good thing. Even if an older version was really, really good it doesn't mean there can't be new ones. Just because the Swedish adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was so could doesn't mean David Fincher couldn't make a US adaptation. They're both great and there's enough room for both of them. With that said I always try to keep an open mind with new adaptation unless I have really good reason not to. I'm just glad I don't remember the older (I refuse to say original because the only original is the fucking book) so I can take this new adaptation at face value.

And let me tell you... a lot better than I thought it would be.

Carrie took a risky yet worthwhile route by keeping a strong focus on the drama instead of strictly the horror. Despite the intense opening where Carrie's mother Margaret (played by Julianne Moore) violently gives birth to Carrie in her own bed, then considers murdering her right out the womb with a big, rusty scissors. We later learn she does this out of religious guilt because of the way Carrie was conceived.
It immediately jumps to Carrie as a 15-16 year old (I think... maybe a little older) teenager with a troubled past is made very, very clear, affecting her physically. As seen when she has her first period not until this age. To make matters worse it happens while she's in the locker room shower after P.E. class, AND she doesn't know what it is so she panics thinking she's dying. Her bitchtastic classmates throw tampons and pads at the scared, nearly naked Carrie laying on the shower floor, while screaming "Freak!" over and over again. All while one of the girls films it on her cell phone.

Now despite the initial praise I gave it before that opening synopsis, I must say everything from here is a hit and miss from scene to scene.

First, almost everything that's a hit happens when Carrie is on screen. Especially the scenes when she's at home with her insane mother. As I mentioned a couple paragraphs ago, Carrie's mother is very religious, but giving the term 'extremest' modesty. Every she speaks it's as if she's preaching a sermon while on the verge of tears. When she feels guilt or tries to keep herself from sinning she inflicts pain on herself using her fingernails or sewing needles to pierce her skin. Sounds like something of a cliche for the horror genre, but Julianne Moore nails it!
Her performance is absolutely incredible! May even be one of the best performances I've ever seen her do. Seriously! I went through her filmography and of all the performances I've seen her do, I definitely enjoyed this one the most. And of course I can't talk about performances without talking about Chloe Grace Moretz, Carrie herself, and one of my favorite young actresses who has an incredible career ahead of her. She embodies Carrie so well as the sad, scared, and confused teen with strange abilities that it felt like she actually lived it. At no point does her character change or drop. She is 100% consistent and I can't think of a modern, young actress who could have done it better.
I'm not kidding. If you watch this movie for anything watch it for their performances. They make all the bad parts worth going through.

Of course with this movie being set in a high school there's going to be a fair share of crap to wade through in the pool of movie watching.
With the two powerhouse performances by our leading ladies, there are oodles of cliches and crap that come from some of the remaining actors. Most, if not all of them, were the students or faculty at the school. Many of their performances were exactly what you'd expect them to be. Nothing interesting and is definitely predictable. Bitchy prep girls, the rebel teacher, the principal is a bumbling buffoon, and of course the bitchiest of all the bitches' dad is a lawyer. It got hard to watch in some of these scenes as so many characters weren't worth looking into. Sure there was Sue who was the one nice girl to Carrie, as was Tommy, but even those two had their lacking.
Really most of the high school stuff that doesn't involve Carrie, like the prom prepping montage, is just stupid and annoying.

The other big problem I had was introducing certain elements but never expanding, or not expanding on the way it could. This was most present when the bullies filmed their harassment on Carrie with their cell phone. Only a couple scenes later it was uploaded to an unnamed social networking site. Then it just... kinda goes away for a while. Even when the bulliest of bullies is confronted by the principle, her P.E. teacher, and her lawyer father about looking on her cell phone she simply starts shivering saying, "isn't this invasion of privacy or something?" and walks off, never talked about again.
I realize the book was written in the 70's, but if you're going to play around with a great modern element that could give a new spin on an old classic don't make it seem like a big deal when it clearly isn't. Don't just save it for the big climax (because we all knew that was coming anyway.)

One part I was super excited about, but gave me mixed results, was the iconic prom scene. Even if you've never seen any Carrie movie or read the book you are likely familiar with this. The scene where Carrie is named Prom Queen as part of a practical joke. Then while accepting she is dumped with a bucket full of pig's blood, wherein she snaps by killing damn near everyone while tearing the school apart with her telepathy. Every video cover of every version of this story (and some of the book covers) show Carrie covered in blood. It can be seen at the top of this review...

...and here...

...and here as well.

Seeing how this plays out is always cool since different interpretations give different results. The results here were mixed for me.
For one it was horiffically beautiful. It was shot and designed so well that I couldn't take my eyes off it from the moment the blood hit her head. Between Moretz's performance and the design of the scene it felt like Carrie belonged in that blood soaked dress. Like she somehow looked at home in it, in some strange twisted way. This, blended with the bully video from earlier playing in the background, then her anger slipping out destroying the high school makes for an exciting scene.
What I didn't like, though, was that this interpretation was a tad over the top. Seeing as Carrie's powers are strong I can appreciate her letting it all out, leaving the school in ruins. What I didn't like was how it felt more like a scene out of the 2009 action/sci-fi movie Push. When she started flinging her arms around in an explosive manner (sometimes literally) it really took away from the horror.

Over the top is easily the best way to describe what I didn't like. Too much of it was over the top. The effects, the way it plays out at the end, just too modern and in your face. Which is a shame because the dramatic scenes between Carrie and her mother are so good I would watch a movie entirely set in their world and nothing else.
The combination of those two leaves us with a movie that is dividing not only it's audience but itself as well. For every fantastic moment it has it also has an equal amount of annoying, stupid, or not well thought out crap.

Unwatchable? Definitely not. I would recommend any Stephen King fan gives it a try at least. There's enough here to satisfy even if you have to get through the garbage. Again, I cannot stress enough how amazing Moretz and Moore did in their performance. It's a rarity to see a really good horror movie as is. But a brialliant performance within that horror movie? Even rarer. This new interpretation definitely stands out over most of the other passable horror that comes out every year. Like the Ouija Board movie. Seriously, who thinks THAT will be any good?

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