The Blood-spattered Prom Queen
And here we go again for another edition of Carrie. On the one hand, I can kind of see why this is a story studios have revisited a couple of times (not to mention, apparently two musical stage plays and a semi-official sequel film): bullying is awful and it happens in every decade because, let's face it, teens are awful. A version of this film that a modern audience will want to watch (for whatever decade it comes out) certainly seems like a fair idea -- kids can always relate to being bullied, and who doesn't want cool super powers so you can fight back, right?
At the same time, though, we've had three versions of this film and all three of them have been beholden to Stephen King's 1974 original novel. None of them have really changed anything about the meat of the story (and the one that did make major changes to the ending, the TV movie/proposed pilot from 2002, never got a chance to capitalize on its changes). Thus, at their core, we have three movies that all tell the same story, with the same beats, and essentially the same way. Is that really necessary? Really, not so much.
If you've seen the last two versions (1974's version with Sissy Spacek and the 2002 version with Angela Bettis) then you know the basics of this movie. Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz this time around) is a sheltered girl raised by an ultra religious, and pretty crazy, mother, Margaret White (Julianne Moore). All the kids at school think Carrie is weird and she's regularly the butt of every joke. Things aren't helped when Carrie has her first period (at the age of 18) and freaks out because her mother never told her anything about her "monthly cycle" (and, of course, Carrie wasn't allowed to attend Sex Ed). All the girls mock her as she cries in the shower, throwing tampons and other feminine products at the girl while she thinks she's bleeding to death, and the Carrie has to be comforted by the Phys Ed teacher, Miss Desjardin (Judy Greer), while an appropriate punishment is decided for the other girls in class.
The mocking gets worse when one of the girls, Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday), posts a video of the incident on YouTube (one of the few modern touches added to this otherwise staid and familiar story), and this leads to a defiant Chris getting suspended, her Prom privileges revoked. Meanwhile, one of the other girls in class, Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde), out of guilt has her boyfriend, Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort), invite Carrie to Prom. Chris, finding out about this, had plans for Carrie, rigging the votes so the girl is named Prom Queen while plotting to dump pig's blood all over the girl during this special moment. Unbenownst to everyone, Carrie has felt an awakening, discovering she has telekinetic powers, and when the fateful incident occurs, you can be sure all hell will break loose.
Considering this is the third version of the film we've covered, what's important to look at is what this film does different from what came before. The biggest change, and the one that I feel adds the most color to the film, is that the movie clearly illustrates that Margaret White, Carrie's mother, isn't just religiously crazy but is likely mentally disturbed. She uses her religion as a crutch, yes, but it's not as a kind of mocking parody of religion; this is the only thing she has in her life that helps her fight off her demons. When she has to deal with people, or things she doesn't like, or really anything outside the Good Book (and sewing, which she's good add), she freaking out and starts harming herself.
Frankly, I appreciated this change. Margaret was always the toughest character in the story to appreciate. Just making her a religious zealot also made her a caricature. Here, though, you can kind of understand what she's going through while, at the same time, wishing she'd get some help. This is a tragedy for Margaret as well as for Carrie, and the sad end the two face at the end of the story (no happy ending where Sue saves Carrie, although it does feint towards it in a nice touch) feels more bittersweet than just once more incident of a Passion Play.
While Margaret is made better in this version, I'd argue that Carrie is actually worse this time around. Her power builds really quickly and she revels in it. That's fine, on its own, but she's also pretty stupid with her gifts. When she gets mad at her mother and reveals her powers for the first time, it's not by rattling some windows or tossing a table; she lifts up all the furniture in the house, and then lifts up her mother, with her power, freaking the poor woman out. When Margaret then calls her a "witch," its not just her zealotry fueling it. Honestly, I had to agree with Margaret in this version, she kind of had a point there. Carrie could have handled things better.
Then there's the fateful incident at the Prom, the part we were of course building towards. Here, once the blood is poured on Carrie, and then the bucket falls down, smashing Tommy in the head, killing him, Carrie doesn't enter some kind of fugue state, causing carnage not because she means to but simply because her power is washing out, defending her from attack. Instead, Carrie is malicious about using her powers to cause damage to everyone else in school. She surgical, purposeful, finally letting go of all the hate and rage she's felt this whole time. The previous versions treated Carrie like a sad and misunderstood girl who has a bad moment at the Prom but could, deep down, still be a good person. Here, though, Carrie is the monster, the villain of her own story. While it certainly makes her ending more justified I don't think it makes the film better.
I think the point the film was trying to make was that power corrupts and once Carrie let go and indulged in her gifts she became a villain. That's fair, I guess, but it feels engineered, like the movie is playing into the superhero movie trend that's been going on since the early 2000s (and reached its fever pitch with the Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe.), but the film needed to be more graceful about what it was going. Carrie is an unwitting supervillain but she's still also treated as the hero of her own story and its a tonal dissonance that the film is never able to really work through. She can't be both a superhero and the monster, not without more development of her and the malicious things she was capable of. And if she was going to be a mean girl I think we would have see that at school long before she gained her powers and burned the whole place down.
This version feels like a failure simply because it doesn't know what it wants to be. It treats the mother, the original villain of the piece, better but makes the heroine into the villain without changing enough of the story to really make it all work. I wish the film could have gone father, deviating further from the source material to actually justify the minor changes to its characters. A more fleshed out version that really worked these angles and found a new story to tell from these bones might have actually been watchable. This version, though, doesn't have the balls (or would that be ovaries?) to commit to big changes leaving this feeling like just another Carrie that doesn't like its lead character. Thanks, but no thanks.