The Carrie that I’m a huge fan of is a novel by Stephen King. It is his first published work and is about the tragedy of a girl set up for failure who just happens to have powers beyond her understanding or control that are set off by her misery. It’s an early look at several of what would become Stephen King’s tropes, and a splendid look at the human condition as envisioned by someone whose gift is to look at things in the most disturbing way possible.
Of course, a good film cannot exist without someone capitalizing on it. Since its release, Carrie has inspired 4 films that I know of: direct adaptations in 1976 and 2002, a loose adaptation/sequel in 1999, and the adaptation we’re looking at today, made in 2013. The original version, created and released within the year following the publication of King’s novel, is widely considered to be the best by fans, despite taking a small number of liberties with the source material.
Perhaps out of knowing that the MPAA would be unlikely to pass anything that could honestly compete with the opening shower room scene of Brian De Palma’s classic, this version starts a bit differently from the others. This film starts with Margaret White, screaming about how she is dying of cancer, lying on a bed covered in blood…as she gives birth to a baby girl. We watch as she tries to bring herself to kill the child as atonement for her “sin” of conception, but can’t bring herself to do it.
This sets the tone for the Margaret White of Kimberly Peirce’s Carrie. Throughout the film, her affection toward Carrie seems completely at odds with the rest of her personality. Equally at odds with her affection are her occasional steps toward killing her daughter, approaching her room with a knife as the lights flicker in the night and finally stabbing her in the back during the climax of the film. While Margaret was always a caricature of an extreme fundamentalist and the type of person you would never want to expose a developing child to, here her disturbance is less in the form of Biblical outbursts (often, as Carrie points out, passages that “aren’t even in the Bible”) and more often in the form of self-harming, even going so far as to repeatedly stab herself as penance for making a prom dress for a customer.
None of this makes Margaret’s parenting any more normal – if anything, it would make growing up in her home a bit worse. Despite this, Carrie seems to have come out more normal than she has in any other version. While growing up in an emotionally abusive home is generally likely to produce either fears to stand up for their self, lashes out, or both, Carrie has grown into a girl who can stand her ground and evenly argue with her mother without fear. This is made even more patently ridiculous by the fact that it’s clear that she needs her telekinesis to do even this as Margaret is unrelenting.
Carrie being in more control than she should be doesn’t only hurt the realism of the story, but it hurts the story itself. The story of Carrie is about a girl with an incredible power that she can barely control, that is keyed more into her emotional state than her rational thought. She is hurt and humiliated and lashes out, with the faintest glimmer of control when her thoughts and emotions coincide. But Carrie in this movie is studying telekinesis, practicing it. When she’s humiliated for the second time, rather than lashing out, she makes clear, calculated decisions to kill in specific ways. Her level of control lessens the tragedy: she can do other things and she knows she can do other things, but she makes a conscious decision to hurt people.
A relatively minor, but still distracting thing about this movie is the Youtube product placement. There is a scene – a short scene, but still an unnecessary one – whose primary purpose seems to be to demonstrate that Youtube videos can be played in full screen. And no, it’s not a generic video site – the scene in which Chris uploads a video for the purpose of cyber-bullying clearly demonstrates a Youtube logo.
Kimberly Peirce’s Carrie isn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s certainly not the best. What it is, is the worst movie with the Carrie title that I’ve seen. The Rage: Carrie 2 is a better Carrie remake than this was, and I see no reason to recommend it to anybody unless they’re trying to watch the full set.