There’s another big reason why you should be hopeful about the remake of Carrie, excuse me, rather the new version of Carrie for this is a new adaptation from the Stephen King novel not a straight remake, something that seems at odds with the final reason for getting excited about the film, one of the writers. Co-writing this new version of Carrie is Lawrence D. Cohen, the man who wrote the screenplay for the original Carrie film which Brian De Palma directed back in 1976.
It seems odd then that if this is a new version of the novel and was clearly trying to distance itself from being a straight remake, that they would bring on board the screenwriter from the original film but let’s not be picky, the original Carrie was after all a very good film. The upside is also that since it was such a good film then perhaps the original writer would bring some of the talent he poured through the keyboard back then.
I was right to have some trepidation, in fact I should have had more. I thought this version of Carrie was downright awful. Many of the key aspects that made the first film so strong were thrown away for this “reimagining” and what was left didn't have a single one of the key values of the original, instead they are completely lost in this muddled and quite heartless remake.
I am now saying remake for whatever we were told before about the film being something more akin to a new adaptation direct from the book it certainly turned out just like a modern remake. While the story was different in places it turned out that these were just superficial differences and didn't carry much substance.
On the positive side there was a modernisation that fitted the story well and never overpowered it, shown well with such moments as recording the opening incident on the mobile phones and posting the video on the internet, modernised indeed but exemplifying their superficial nature. While it was a clever idea to update the story it never really added that much to the overall story apart from reminding us we were in a present day setting.
The opening scene showed a lot of promise though as the slightly erotic and uncomfortable moments of watching Carrie showering turn into surprise as we see blood slowly mingling with the shower water. I was excited to see how this scene was filmed, reminding us of the original in a nicely done homage style opening. Yet it very quickly turned away and strange quirks began popping up which quickly began to disappoint.
There were the direct to camera moments which broke the connection with the audience mid scene, similar strange angles popped up on occasion in the middle of scenes and felt very distracting. These initial oddly framed shots were closely followed by the strange choice to escalate the powers of the lead character within a few minutes of the film opening, something I don’t remember in the original.
It’s with the powers of the lead character where I had my greatest issue with the film. Not only did they kick in very early and in much greater force but in an attempt to modernise the character we saw her fascinated by them, researching them, and mastering them all too quickly. The great problem with this is that well before we move to the climatic and massively important scene at the prom we’ve already seen the character do all the things she’s about to do at the prom. Any surprise from these moments is no longer there for she’s done everything, there’s nothing shocking or new to be seen. Before the prom she’s also mastered her powers and tested them out, and this gives us the feeling that she's doing this with very different motivations, and ones which don't give us the thin justification of what her mother and the bullies have piled on her.
In the original Carrie’s sexual awakening was also awakening her powers, powers which grew slowly and revealed themselves in moments when her own emotions, like any other teenager, were getting out of control. She was never truly in control of them and was scared by what was happening, far from mastering them her religious background was pushing her away from them believing something terrible was happening to her. She never wanted to be the outcast, she wanted to be normal and accepted.
As we see more of her powers revealed in the original film we also see that she loses more and more control, but it’s only when she does lose control that the powers and her mastery of them come to the fore, unfortunately at this point she’s lost control of herself and the final scenes are truly a revelation for the character and her powers.
In this version of the film we aren’t long into the film before we know she’s powerful, she can control them, and she’s been learning and practicing. Gone is the sexual awakening and the idea of losing control, and that means that she’s a lot more aware of what she’s doing and why than the original character was. Any sympathies for her and the ideas of her being the victim of bullying have long passed.
The relationship with the mother is less than interesting too and never do we really feel there’s a breakdown or reversal in the power of the relationship. Instead the idea of the powers and the special effects take the fore and the subtleties of that relationship are gone.
There are moments in the film that seemed pointless – the boy helping her to size a window on the library computer is a glaringly odd moment that seems to suggest a thread lost in editing and an old scene left mistakenly in; the pregnancy; the final scene which fails to shock, and more. There is a feeling that the film has been edited down to within an inch of its life and aspects like this reflect that. This is one of these cases where I'd expect to find out that the film was changed to make it more exciting and action orientated for that accountants dream of the PG13 audience.
There was one more thing that really annoyed me about the film and does so for many films featuring the power of the mind, the fact that mental powers only work if you wave your hands and fingers about at the object you’re influencing. I thought the fact that these were powers of the mind meant that they were controlled by and emitted from the mind, not the contorted fingers, twisted arms and hunched shoulders.
Irritation aside it was really the fact that this film shot itself in the foot by overplaying the powers before the prom scene, for any tension and suspense building was well and truly gone at this point. What was to come was more of the same just bigger, with blood, flames and with lots of waving hands.
With the relationship between the mother and daughter feeling pretty flat, much like the overplayed bad bullies, the main aspects of the original were lost to effects and a desire to focus on the use of the powers over anything else.
There are some positives for the film and one of those is the way that it has been modernised. You might expect this to go too far or become a little gimmicky however it's actually neatly done. If we forget the idea that Carrie is learning about her powers, the inclusion of the mobile camera footage and of the character doing internet research feels right, it feels as though it's what they would do even if it doesn't work with the story.
Both Chloë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore are very good in their roles and put in powerful and interesting performances. Of course I am putting to the side the problems with their characters and the threads around them and commenting purely on their performances. Also the effects are good, particularly the car crash sequence post prom, but here more than anywhere else it felt as though there was a desire to create cool set pieces over everything else.
Carrie isn't a patch on the original film, not by a long shot. Of course some people will say that this is down to the way we so often view films for the first time and remember them fondly from the future. I don't believe that's true for Carrie and it's clear to see why when you watch this new version and see what's missing.
With the story turned around showing Carrie experiencing her powers to full effect well before the prom and researching them seemingly without trepedation, almost all the build up and tension that is released in the prom scene in the original is gone. All that's left here is to showcase effects making more of them and making them bigger than before. There is still tension there but it relies on us just waiting for the big moment which has been completely set-up before our eyes.
The characters aren't that interesting either and while Chloë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore are both very good their characters lack a lot of the core of their relationship from the original film. The fear of the mother that builds to a crescendo is sadly lacking.
At least we'll now know that we'll have plenty of warning from people with mind control powers, they'll be waving their arms around, waggling their fingers and hunching up their shoulders, pointing clearly at what they are about to unleash on.