Carrie is the latest in a long running string of remakes of much-beloved films in the horror genre that includes far too many films to even list or begin to count. This time around, the director is Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry, Stop-Loss) and the star is the up-and-comer Chloë Grace Moretz (Hugo, Let Me In, Kick Ass) in the role of Carrie White. The film is technically an adaptation of the bestselling novel by Stephen King, but it's roots are firmly connected to director Brian De Palma's 1976 film adaptation, a classic of the genre in its own right.
The story centers upon the shy, timid, and unfortunate Carrie. She's an outcast high school student who has no close friends and who is considered a loner to everyone around her. In attending school she is often subject to bullying and many students treat her with such foul wickedness that she struggles just to get by in her daily school life.
Carrie's mother is Margaret White (Julianne Moore), who is in many ways a religious fanatic: early in the film she compares her daughter having a period to the biblical origins of Adam & Eve, sinning, and creating the future of sin which would be carried through her daughter and through others (such as her schoolmates). Margaret White (or as Carrie knows her... 'Mom') seems incapable of listening to her daughter and there is a clear divide between these two characters.
Margaret White doesn't want for Carrie to know about going through an ordinary thing like puberty or about having a period -- Carrie's lack of awareness about having a period is even something that helps leads to a traumatic school experience for Carrie, with something that comes about through the cruelness of her fellow students. Later in the film, Margaret isn't a mother even willing to consider her daughter's thoughts on wanting to go to Prom Night. It doesn't lead to a good relationship between the characters and it leads to more issues within Carrie's story and the groundwork of the film.
Carrie is in a number of ways just a normal girl, but she is someone who is a social outcast too. However, Stephen King had surprises in store back when he wrote his breakthrough bestselling novel. Taking thing a step beyond simple dramatics is the twisty idea to give her an ability that sets her apart from her fellow students: Carrie can use telekinesis abilities. Why does she have the capabilities and what good or bad could come from them? This question mark looms too.
The film builds towards the same climatic ending that begins with the school prom and ends at Carrie White's home. Over the course of the film, Carrie winds up getting to go to Prom with a popular boy at the school. As an audience, one sees that the boy asked her out as a favor to his girlfriend (who had been a part of her school bullying but came to have a change of heart about what she and her friends did to Carrie). This isn't the entire aspect of this part of the story. One can see that that the boy who asks Carrie out actually starts to feel something for her and that when Carrie isn't subject to the harshness of her environment she opens up and tries to break away from her isolation.
Unfortunately, there are ways in which this version of Carrie actually makes the character less sympathetic than in the original film. This is largely because Carrie becomes in control of her powers before the film's end and uses them to wreck havoc in a way that conflicts with what happens in De Palma's film. Peirce seems to view Carrie as some sort of superhero, but she becomes more menacing in the film's concluding act with more control over her powers as revenge is enacted against everyone in the school with a cold calculation that is new to the adaptation.
While there are some admirable attempts being made to update the story for modern audiences, including those who have probably not seen the first film adaptation, I was also disappointed it didn't go further in trying to separate itself from the De Palma film and stand on its own. There are many sequences in the film which seem to mimic the style and pacing of the 1976 film and fewer scenes that seem to attempt to do things differently enough to make this version become distinctive enough. Yet this film also lacks some of the distinctive directorial decisions that are staples of the De Palma classic, such as the chaotic editing with split-screen framing during the prom sequence, which has even become a borrowed style by filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino.
The biggest new additions to this film version are some slightly altered characterizations: Carrie was slightly less sympathetic than before by becoming more calculating with her abilities, while Margaret White becomes more sympathetic with some scenes performed with a delicate balance from Julianne Moore and some key moments in the script suggesting there's more to her than the simply crazed mother portrayed by Piper Laurie in De Palma's film. These characterizations are a element that make this Carrie a bit less scary and a bit more emotionally interesting in a different way than the original film (where most of the attention would have been placed on Carrie herself and not on Margaret).The updates to the film also include an element of modernization. This film includes a scene in which Carrie White is spending some time on Google looking into her newly acquired telekinetic abilities, and the film also tries to tackle the issue of cyber bullying early on. The addition of cell-phones to the character's world is also a difference that changes up some of the story a bit and it's clear that this version of Carrie was made with the significant technology differences in mind.
Yet some of the technological updates addressed in the film are also part of the reason this is a less successful version of Carrie than the film by De Palma. Peirce has many sequences in this film that are nearly ruined and dramatically lessened by terrible CGI that is featured with over abundance. The Prom sequence apparently utilized real fire for filming, though... much to my surprise. I was not that impressed by the scene in general and would not have realized it was filmed at all utilizing real fire for the effect. In this regard, I suppose I didn't appreciate the overdone CGI or the traditional effects in this production.
Kimberly Peirce has some good ideas for her modern update to Carrie. I enjoyed the film to some extent and found there to be a reasonable quality to a lot of areas of the film. Yet in a comparison to the classic Carrie I find this remake doesn't differentiate itself enough and a number of the differences are actually less compelling. While this film is worth watching it certainly doesn't surpass De Palma's film and there are still too many clear similarities in the stylistic approach to call this remake an entirely original attempt.
The performances are also a bit mixed in quality. Julianne Moore is highly effective with her part. Most of the scenes with Moore seem to excel from the acting excellence she brings. In comparison, Chloë Grace Moretz comes up second and doesn't impress nearly as much. In scenes featuring Moore it seemed as though the two performers excelled together and the production benefited. Yet on her own, Moretz delivers an inconsistent performance that ultimately doesn't work as well as it should.
I was surprised by how effective Moretz was in sequences that most probably thought would call her casting into question. Her performance delivered on the premise of Carrie being an outcast who doesn't "fit in" with a school of students who don't understand or try to know Carrie. Yet when Moretz performs Carrie's discovery of telekinesis and the scenes in which Carrie enacts revenge on the school she seems, much to my surprise, to be over-acting in a way that doesn't benefit the film. Moretz is a highly talented and relative newcomer despite having appeared in numerous high profile films already, and there's real promise for her future career. Yet this was not her most successful performance. It works it spades but it doesn't help the film to be as good as it could have been with a stronger lead performance.
As for the rest of the cast, I was almost uniformly underwhelmed by the other actors. There are far too many weak performances in Carrie as other than Moore and Moretz the rest of the cast seems to be acting on a television melodrama or soap. It was ridiculous how average most of these performances were. I don't know whether to entirely chalk this up to director Peirce or perhaps to the casting agent: regardless, the main roles are the only ones in the film that are worthy of being in a film based on King's iconic novel and a film that is already regarded as classic.
Fans of the De Palma's Carrie won't walk away from this one feeling too pleased but there are a couple of things going for this adaptation that make it worth checking out at least once. It's got some ambitious ideas and it does attempt to do some new things with the story. Alas, there are still far too many ways in which it seems to borrow from the classic film and it isn't successful enough with doing so. This version is worth some minor consideration but it seems unlikely that many viewers will walk away from the experience feeling satisfied with the results.
Carrie is presented on Blu-ray in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The MPEG-4 AVC encoded presentation maintains an average bit-rate of 28 MBPS, an impressive if not altogether perfect encoding for a modern production. Most viewers will be pleased with the results even if there is some small room for improvement. The image retains a strong cinematic look and it does a good job of reproducing the sleek cinematography by Steve Yedlin (Looper).
Colors seem somewhat muted in certain scenes, and more expansive in other parts of the film as a part of its intended aesthetic. The transfer has good black levels, contrast, and depth and only falters in having some occasionally soft moments of photography. There is little doubt that this transfer retains the intended aesthetic look of the film and is a generally fine presentation.
Presented in 24 Bit, The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is even more impressive than the video presentation. This high quality lossless sound mix has a strong sound design that implements good bass and surround directionality. The entire film is effectively heightened by the first-rate surround usage which highlights good sound effects and a chilling, effective score composed by Marco Beltrami.
First of all, this is a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD UV combo pack that provides several ways to watch the film.
The Blu-ray supplemental features are discussed below:
Feature Length Commentary by director Kimberly Pierce
Alternate Ending (Not Shown in Theaters) is an optional selection for the film, which plays the theatrical version of the film but with a slightly different ending.
Deleted/Alternate Scenes (1080p, 10 Min.) consists of nine scenes that were either removed or edited down for the theatrical release. Optional commentary is also included.
Tina on Fire Stunt Double Dailies (1080p, 2 Min.) is a behind the scenes look at how the prom sequence used actual fire for some of the filming.
Creating Carrie (1080p, 21 Min.) is a making of featurette exploring the production of Carrie with interviews with many of the filmmaking participants.
The Power of Telekinesis (1080p, 4 Min.) is a discussion with some of the filmmakers about the portrayal of telekinesis in the film.
Telekinetic Coffee Shop Surprise (1080p, 3 Min.) is a video of the publicized promotional stunt done by the Carrie production team to help raise awareness of the film's release.
Theatrical Trailer (1080p, 2 Min.)
Carrie isn't the most successful remake around. There are good qualities to the film but there are also too many ways in which the film either falters or borrows too heavily from the De Palma film to be considered an entirely successful effort. Moore is particularly good in her role as Margaret White but Chloë Grace Moretz delivers an inconsistent performance as Carrie.
The Blu-ray release contains a strong PQ/AQ presentation and a couple of supplements that should appeal to fans of the film. If you appreciated this remake enough to own it, this is a worthwhile Blu-ray release. Everyone else should consider renting this first to decide for themselves if it works more or less than the De Palma film. I happen to feel this film is a decidedly inferior remake compared to the 1976 version despite its apparent ambitions. I recommend that newcomers begin with that version of Stephen King's classic story.