Thursday, January 12, 2012

Movie Review: Carrie

In light of recent news that a remake of Stephen King's epic horror story Carrie is in the works, I thought this a perfect opportunity to do a review on this story.  It was originally a novel - King's first of many masterpieces - but I'm primarily reviewing the movie here.  The movie differs from the book a good deal, which this gives me a chance not only to address those differences, but to speak my mind on the prospect of a remake, which I'll get into a little later.  And truthfully, this is as much a book review as a movie review.  I'm calling it a movie review because I address the movie more so than the novel, even though the novel is the far stronger work.

Photo © Jonathan Dalar

The story opens with the scene in the shower, where Carrie has her first menstrual period.  It's a total shock to her, and understandable as we learn later from a glimpse into her upbringing.  The scene is gratuitous, graphic, but necessarily so.  It provides stark contrast between Carrie and the other girls in the school, and lets us know immediately as viewers just what that relationship is.  It's a wonderful example of an author showing, not telling, in a story.

It's a solidly character-driven story.  As it progresses, it's really more about the characters and their relationships than it is about plot.  It's about Carrie's fight for normalcy, and her fight against her mother's abuse and restrictive parenting.  The reasons for this are explained much more clearly in the original novel - Carrie's mother is overcome by fundamentalist religious mania, exacerbated by signs of mental illness.  Her mother abuses Carrie and further complicates problems at school because of her eccentric, authoritarian behavior.

We begin to see that the writing's already on the wall for Carrie as the other students begin to make vicious plans behind her back.  She's naturally skeptical of her new-found fortune when she is invited to the prom by one of the cool guys in school, but eventually believes his sincerity.  And he is sincere; those plans are being made without his knowledge as well.

It's definitely a horror story; without those elements, there is no story, simply a teenage girl learning about coming of age.  A large part of that horror is the interaction between the characters.  The horror of human treachery, deceit, and cruelty is often far worse than any amount of blood and gore.  It's a more cerebral horror, one that creeps up on you in the night, when you're not expecting it, instead of slapping you in the face.  And this is where Carrie shines.  The pacing is slow enough to allow the viewer to think about the base evilness at play before much of the action actually happens, and the foreshadowing, as we learn more about Carrie's terrible secret ability, allows suspense to build to the climax.

To me, the key moments in the story are the first moments of the prom, before things turn ugly.  Carrie is there, beautiful in her new dress, the school's star quarterback on her arm, and basking in the sudden but welcome changes in her life.  She has defied her mother's wishes by attending, and she is surprisingly thrust into the roll of prom queen, no longer an outcast.

That moment is key, because it is a life-changing moment, no matter what happens after.  At that precise time, we as viewers recognize that if she were to continue along this path, allowed to escape the devious plans set up for her, her life would change forever for the better.  No longer would she have the crippling self doubt, fearing ostracism and torment from the other students.  And if those plans continue unopposed, the point of no return in the opposite direction will have been reached.

Several things in the movie differ from the novel, and the ending is one such critical difference.  In the movie, the story's ending is weaker, even as it is more prolonged and expanded upon.  Sometimes telling less of the story is a good thing.  Much like lingerie, forcing one to guess what's underneath often does wonders for the experience.  We know what happened without being explicitly told, which allows our minds to fill in the lurid details.

Throughout the novel, we are given excerpts from newspapers, legal documents, and personal accounts of the incident.  We're told the story from the perspective of a town trying to regain composure and put all the pieces back together, both the pieces of the shattered community, and the details of exactly what happened.  In the movie there is none of this, and we lose that perspective, which is a vital one.  That perspective allows us to take a closer look at some of the reasons behind the actions.  Gaining the insight of intent and motive allows us a more intimate experience.

There's nothing new under the sun, and that's especially true in Hollywood, where it's easier to stick to the tried and true formulas and endless sequels and remakes.  After all, they've already established a pattern of success, making it easier to build future success from.  But if they're going to do a remake, Carrie is an excellent candidate.  After all, it's been 36 years since the original hit theaters, and it's one of the best classic horror films of all time.  The original movie is quite obviously set in the 1970's, so a remake now would have a completely different feel.  To put it in perspective, it featured John Travolta in his debut movie roll.

My take?  This new remake could be awesome, and it could be disastrous.  If it sticks close to the novel as it's rumored to, it'll likely be great, because the novel's key themes of ostracism, child abuse, peer pressure, and the limits of human psychological endurance are what drives the horror home.  It could also provide a fresh look at the story, updating it with a more modern take, which could be a boon for the younger generation of horror fans.

It could also flop badly, at least in terms of the retelling, if not the box office.  Having Lindsay Lohan play the leading roll of Carrie would be, in my humble opinion, a bad decision.  It's not that she couldn't pull it off in terms of personality and looks, it's that she's over a decade too old for the part.  She wouldn't make a very convincing Carrie at all, especially not considering the opening credits when Carrie has her very first period.  Hailee Steinfeld, reportedly also in consideration, would be a much better option, as she did a solid job in the remake of True Grit.

So, yea, I have high hopes for the new movie, even as I have reservations.  There are so many more great tools available to movie makers today, with advances in CGI and other special effects.  And even with some of the recent disappointments in mind, this could be the epic rebirth of a classic horror tale, the opportunity to bring the story from the old, yellowed pages of the original novel to the silver screen the way it should be done.

Both the book and movie versions are available.


  1. Very interesting review and thoughts on the book and film. To be honest, I'm not a big fan of remakes generally. And didn't they do a TV remake of Carrie a few years back?

  2. Thanks, Luke. I've tried to present reviews in a little different format than the normal. I'd rather look at it from a different perspective, looking at more than just what happens in the plot. You can see that by reading the book or watching the movie, and if you've already read or seen it, such a review really doesn't do anything for you. Hopefully this sort of view does, maybe even inciting one to read or watch it again.

    They did do a TV remake of Carrie, back in 2002, which wasn't all that great at all. They completely overdid everything, besides casting Carrie with a 27-year-old woman, which makes the whole "I just got my first period and don't know what it is" scene completely absurd and unbelievable. Carrie also lives in the end.

    There was also a Carrie 2 made, which was also - you guessed it - an incredible flop. They threw continuity to the wind and liberally applied plot Bondo to gloss things over, because fuck it, it's all about the money anyway.

    I so hope they see how badly those incarnations of the story went and stick very closely to the book. In fact, one of the best parts of the book - the news articles and personal accounts - are one of the most interesting aspects of the story.

  3. I think I saw some of the TV remake. Obviously it didn't leave much of an impression if I can't remember it.

    I did watch the original Carrie again a couple of months ago. It has definitely dated (the scene with the guys trying on their tuxes is just too funky) but was still overall a decent film. As for the news articles etc, you're right. Keep those in a film version.

  4. I think if they stay completely true to King's original novel, it has the potential to be an awesome movie. Especially if they do a good job on casting. Here's a thought: cast high-profile, popular young actors and actresses in every role but Carrie, which you cast with a nobody. Doing that will automatically put the audience in the frame of mind that she's unpopular. Also, make them all in the 13-16 age range, sticking true to the original there, too. We've seen young actors do well in adult audiences with Harry Potter; there's no reason it wouldn't work here too. Give it a really edgy, documentary-style feel, and it will be an awesome movie.

  5. Great review. I love the Carrie movie, but for a good part of it, I was plain bored. It didn't seem particularly exciting. But once that scene came, the rampage, I was hooked. Carrie creates one of the creepiest/eeriest scene ever.

    I actually talk about that scene in depth in my review. I would love it if you had the time to check it out and give me some feedback.