SEAT AT THE BACK - SCRIBBLES! ~ Films on the Seat at the Back playlist right now: KIDS IN LOVE; JUNE; CURVE; WILD, BARELY LETHAL; GODDESS OF LOVE; THE VATICAN TAPES .. What a night in!

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Carrie (2013) // Chloe Grace Moretz proving that she's still the horror genre's favourite sulky kid with another brooding performance - as Stephen King's telekinetic tortured soul, Carrie White!


Case File #249: Carrie White / Reporter: Mark Gordon Palmer (classified plot notes)

Carrie White is a teenage high school girl with issues. Make that one issue - her mother! Mother Margaret rules the White house with a crucifix of iron and denies her daughter any thoughts of escape, adventure or boys. Carrie White goes to school, goes home, rarely interacts with other pupils and is called ‘the freak’. When she tries to join in class activities; nothing goes right. In one swimming session, Carrie is persuaded to throw a ball. It hits another student on the head. When asked to recite poetry, she comes up with the darkest religious recitations she can manage – even her English Lit teacher thinks she's weird. And when Carrie takes a communal shower; she gets her first period and doesn’t understand what’s happening: “Help me,” she screams at the giggling crowd of girls gathering around her, “I’m bleeding to death.”


Carrie’s embarrassment in the school locker room is filmed and posted online by school bully Chris Hargensen whose best friend Sue Snell is already suffering a serious bout of guilt for being one of those laughing at Carrie in the shower incident and especially the joining in of the ceremonial throwing of tampons at her, to "plug it up". In fact, Sue feels so much guilt she even interrupts, mid-thrust, a back seat car copulation with boyfriend Tommy Ross to confess all.

Carrie has PE teacher Ms. Desjardin on her side. Desjardin rescued the girl from the shower taunts by, well – slapping her to calm her down. Comforting of that kind is likely to get you a criminal conviction these days, but it does the trick and Ms. Desjardin becomes almost a comfort to Carrie from that moment on. In fact, her first course of action is to place everyone on killer PE detention for a week and ban the poisonous Chris from the school prom. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t exactly raise Carrie’s popularity either at school or with Chris, who plots the freak’s downfall along with rough-stuff boyfriend George who kind of hangs around school without actually going to it.

Guilt-riddled Sue persuades (really easily - a total pushover) her boyfriend Tommy to ask Carrie to a date at the school prom while she stays at home to take a shower and watch TV with her parents. Some swap huh? Tommy agrees and gets his date. Carrie gets a new dress – well, makes one. And Mamma says no. What does Carrie care? She’s already starting to develop some devilish telekinetic abilities that have already demolished a school mirror and Principal Morton’s water barrel. Carrie’s mother tries everything to keep her daughter away from the school prom – and especially, from the school jock. She tries locking Carrie in a store cupboard but it’s not long before Mamma gets locked in that store cupboard instead – and then some! All of which leads to Carrie and Tommy heading for certain humiliation and a soaking in pig’s blood at the prom, and a terrifying twenty minutes of payback until one final, mother/ daughter heart to heart in the middle of the kind of fallout that’s going to get Carrie much more than a couple of hours detention.

Case File #249: Carrie White/ Concluding Evidence. . (First published in the Castle Rock Gazette)

FILMBURN FILES: ‘Movie Versions of the Carrie White Story’/ Sub-Heading IV: ‘CARRIE 2013’ by Mark Gordon Palmer

Director Kimberly Peirce is a true wild card in the Hollywood directors club. A long-time friend of the original CARRIE movie director Brian De Palma (1976), she is probably best known for her 1999 movie BOYS DON’T CRY starring Hillary Swank and Chloe Sevigny, for which Sevigny was nominated for a 'Best Supporting Actress' Academy Award with Swank winning 'Best Actress'. But Peirce has made only a few movies since and has had to fight against the sexism she has often cited exists in Hollywood. Peirce abandoned one movie after its budget was slashed and for her version of CARRIE sent young actress Chloe Grace Moretz to homeless shelters to find out up close what ‘having a hard life’ actually means in real life, not just the movie world. One thing is for sure: Kimberly Peirce as a director means what she shoots.

"It was reliably reported by several persons that a rain of stones fell from a clear blue sky on Carlin Street in the town of Chamberlain on August 17th."

Opening line of 'Carrie' by Stephen King

Carrie is the debut novel of horror author Stephen King and appeared on bookshelves in 1974. Two years later and Brian De Palma filmed what is probably seen as the definite movie version of the story - starring Sissy Spacek as the teenage telekinetic in a quite astounding, powerful, fragile performance of barely contained rage. Split screen mayhem ensued and the face of Spacek drenched in pig’s blood became a poster pin-up for a disaffected youth for generations.

CARRIE (1976)

There was a sequel, of sorts – THE RAGE: CARRIE 2 (1999), from director Katt Shea that starred Emily Bergl as Rachel Lang, a newly disaffected teenage girl with a similar capacity for telekinetic chaos as Carrie once had. Luckily, original friend of Carrie; Sue Snell (played by Amy Irving, the same actress from the De Palma film) is working at Rachel’s school and may hold the answer to controlling her hidden rage – but probably won’t be able to stop it, or there’d be no movie! THE RAGE is a cool, fun quick flick through simmering teen angst and gothic black-veined carnage – it has a hip vibe and a deliciously dark visual style that sets the movie apart from the bad sequel pile of other lesser horror follow-ups.



CARRIE returned in a rewrite for TV in 2002. Starring Angela Bettis as the girl with the power, again – this version offered something new to the mix; a downbeat, almost dowdy edge that highlighted the horrors of loneliness and isolation rather perfectly; a huge contrast to the delirious flashiness of De Palma’s iconic approach and with a delightfully kooky interpretation of Carrie from actress Angela Bettis (star of 2002’s horror treasure MAY, another mixed-up girl slice of gruesome disaffection). It’s easy to believe that Angela Bettis probably is like Carrie White in real life anyway, so it’s not hard to suspend belief watching this worthy TV movie of King’s classic story.


CARRIE (TV 2002)

The premise of the TV movie (that at one point was pencilled-in to become a series) focuses on how Carrie's father could have slept around and fathered other girls with telekinetic powers - in the new Carrie movie a similar plot explanation is developed; making Carrie's father the reason for her powers (as well as a supernatural demonising of the man, who we never get to see) alongside the other possibility that telekinetic abilities skip a generation, like a family curse.

Which brings us neatly to 2013’s brilliantly seething, affectingly character-driven version of the Carrie White story. The plot closely follows both the De Palma movie script (original scriptwriter Lawrence D. Cohen also co-wrote this one, so no surprises there) and of course, there’s some reliance on Stephen King’s original patchwork novel that told the Carrie story in flashbacks from such sources as published witness accounts ('My Name is Susan Snell'), newspaper clippings, academic analysis ('Telekinesis: Analysis and Aftermath') and courtroom evidence.

A courtroom appearance from Carrie’s friend Sue Snell appears in the new movie, but there’s little else to reflect the unique structure of the original novel - a sequential style that set Carrie apart with its layer-caking literary technique and rambling teen angst cool and gawky disaffection. The payoff for every reader who has ever been teased, taunted or bullied being what Carrie White did to the kids who tormented her. Carrie, without any shame, is a cypher for pent-up schoolgirl rage. It's as invaluable as any personal development class could ever be.


A few years later, Stephen King wrote another story of high school aggression, focused on the individual and on payback against society (represented by authority figures here) and by the bloodiest means possible. King eventually settled on the novel being called, simply - ‘Rage’ and it appeared under a pseudonym; written by Richard Bachman.

Following possible copycat shooting incidents across the US, including at high schools and a prayer meeting (and evidence that some of those responsible could have been readers of King's book) the events in Rage were too close to the truth for the author who allowed the book to go out of print deliberately (the novella can also be found in a later collection of Bachman stories called 'The Bachman Books' - also now unavailable in any edition that includes Rage).
A shame it's out of print, because as a novel, Rage remains an outstandingly raw and beguiling meditation on teenage isolation, struggle for identification and mistrust of authority - a swaggering rage against conformity and abuse. It's as essential a novel as Carrie, that I also first read as a teenager, and as corruptible and classic as Catcher in the Rye. The rage. as in Carrie, is symbolic - in the same way Lord of the Flies is symbolic of pack mentality, even (or especially) among children.

King's Carrie is a decidedly safer exposition of teen turmoil compared to Rage (a novel still unfilmed - and maybe unfilmable), but no less important. If ‘Rage’ eventually, not deliberately, mirrored real-life tragic events - it was hardly King’s fault. Carrie has also often been cited as a warning against the mentality of pack bullying that has reached something of a conclusion in the cyber-bullying of the present day (and, most terrible of all - has led to more suicides by schoolchildren across the UK, it seems, than ever in recent years). Some critics have lamented that Moretz, and other Carries before her, have been too attractive to be bullied - and it's not a convincing scenario.

Of course, as pictures of children in the media who have taken their own lives after bullying show - they are often the prettiest in the class and the highest achieving. Bullies in the classroom pick on those who are naturally gifted or naturally different - a kind of self-defence, because they are afraid of being knocked back themselves by those more interesting and fuller of life, than they are. Creative types - artists, authors, actors alike, always seem to have a story to tell about how they were bullied at school. Fewer tell of being the bully.


King himself based Carrie on students he had seen at school and recalls that one girl, who always dressed in dowdy clothing and was withdrawn the entire time, suddenly blossomed and wore the most fashionable clothing one day - only to be picked on even more. Carrie White also has that need to move on from the dowdy image she has and the mocking about her naivety, but as soon as she does - at the school prom - things also just get worse. It's a cycle of hate that King's novel exposes, and some of the greatest literary observations about bullying ever put down in print; let alone the horror genre.

“And when she talks of Carrie White her face takes on an odd pinched look that is more like Lovecraft out of Arkham than Kerouac out of Southern Cal.” 
'Carrie' by Stephen King

In any film version of the Carrie story, there's never any doubt whose side you are on. No teenagers will be able to act like Carrie White in their lives – but nearly every teenager has at some point imagined lifting a screaming teacher high in the air and throwing them out the window by the power of thought alone. Or when surrounded by a gang of taunting schoolchildren, being able to scatter them across the classroom like dominoes! This is why Carrie's story has been filmed many times and why the book, now celebrating its 40th year since publication, is as relevant today as it was in 1974.

The new movie version of CARRIE features (and it's the only way I can think of saying this) a totally awesome cast, who all deliver the grungy goods. Chloe Grace Moretz (KICK-ASS, HICK, LET ME IN) proves that she is still the horror genre's favourite sulky kid (although her horror roles are becoming less frequent, so who knows for how much longer horror fans can claim her as one of their own, as they often try to do – it doesn’t matter, her film roles whether in The Equalizer or Hick still have the same swagger that the horror genre relishes). An unassuming young actress, Moretz is as relevant as Spacek ever was in the role; cleverly moving her character along from nervous shyness to a clear interest in boys and friendship (a touching, subtle scene in the ICT room where she and a quiet, unnamed boy become aware of one another - potential friends, though not to be - shows that Carrie doesn’t have to be all withdrawn and insular, in fact; she may even prefer not to be).

Carrie’s life is often revealed as being one that could so easily turn. When Carrie attends the prom with Tommy Ross, Chloe Grace Moretz allows her character to suddenly soften and talk like a normal teenager; looking around the room and making playful comments about other students – suddenly she is not the withdrawn and tepid Carrie but an emotionally blossoming student. If it wasn’t for subsequent tragic events, Carrie’s life could so easily become one where she finally manages to break free and become ‘the girl most likely’.

Moretz has stated that this lead role has been the one closest to, and that mirroring, her own life – bullied at school by other pupils who were jealous of her success, Moretz has publicly supported the anti-bullying campaign 'Stomp Out Bullying'; perhaps a reason why her portrayal of Carrie is filled with such a real sense of longing, of regret; of genuine rage. The final, transforming scenes of Carrie; the shy, tortured soul, into a monster of sorts - a hunched creature of immense, demonic-almost, power, is startling. It takes De Palma’s swift, slice and dice and explosive finale from the original movie to an all new level of horror - Carrie's revenge is like a demon choreographing the end of the world in a venomous final act; a play born of Faustian intent with a tragic ending guaranteed. The blood that smears across Carrie's face, especially when it dries, becomes like a mask.


There are teases of the original De Palma classic in  Peirce's movie: the up close soap-on-skin in the shower at the start and the split screen technique (not actually used, but implied through natural lines down the centre of the screen) - but this Carrie is perhaps more character-based than the original. While Sissy Spacek’s performance in the 1976 version remains one of the greatest characterisations ever seen in cinema, and De Palma’s wild, meandering, colour-soaked and flamboyant (even when richly dowdy) direction is among the most exciting, director Peirce really gets up close to the characters; makes this her stamp of intent - she gets to make Carrie White a genuinely wounded soul and a seething mess of hormones and emotion (Moretz was actually a young teenager at the time of making this movie, unlike the other two Carries, who were both in the twenties).

Moretz's Carrie has a barely-concealed need to break free from her shackles and join in with the people she wants to have as friends; this is most evident in the scenes at the swimming pool where she almost smiles with sudden joy – a sudden chance to burst through that wall of repression, when offered the ball to throw and be a part of the games (you even hear some pupils cheering her name with affection). It’s just a shame it all goes so wrong and the ball strikes one of the coolest members of her class on the head - "Carrie eats shit" being the response from some. Can fate be decided by something as simple as the throw of a ball?

Moretz is outstanding as Carrie but the film has an impressive supporting cast: Julianne Moore as Carrie’s self-harming, bible-spouting, over-protective mother comes across as more caring than the same character did in the De Palma original (played, ferociously - brilliantly, by Piper Laurie). When Moore's Margaret White shows off the sewing repairs she has made to a item of clothing for Sue Snell's mother, there’s a trace of a smile upon being complimented on her work: although she self-harms with the same compliment still being spoken - as if praise is in some way sinful and deserving of punishment.


Margaret White, just like her daughter, is clearly as naïve as Carrie - and just as in need of saving. Margaret didn’t even realise she was giving birth to her own daughter while lying in pain on her bed, as witnessed in the film's opening (and slightly too screamy) sequence – she thought she was dying; as Carrie does too when she has her first period. While Piper Laurie gave us an essentially religiously-crazed, obsessive Mrs White, Moore's version is far more of a wounded soul; she knows that Carrie, if she tastes blood, will kill - over and over again. The final act confrontation is really only between two victims of the world around them; of forces beyond their control and of upbringing and abuse. A mother and daughter. Forced to fight it out alone. The house they live in, and a place that should be a safe haven - their final battleground.

Ansel Elgort is effective as a sympathetic but slightly too eager to please high school jock - Tommy Ross. Just like with the De Palma movie, I’m still not convinced that his girlfriend Sue Snell (and I always think this creepy, cruel sounding name should be switched with that of the real queen bitch of the show - Chris Hargensen; just an opinion I always have halfway through any Carrie movie!) would really persuade him to take Carrie to the prom as a way to make up for the way she has treated the girl in the locker room. Wouldn’t the next day be a letdown for Carrie when Tommy tells her that he’s still going out with Sue and ‘there you go – that’s your lot’? It seems almost crueller than letting Carrie stay at home and sulk.

Almost stealing the show from Moretz is Portia Doubleday as Chris who effortlessly reeks sexuality and cruelty; she’s the most brilliant movie bitch in ages, but subtle character traits show her to be more sympathetic that we may realise. Chris is the one who yells at Carrie that "it's just your period" in the shower scene and seems almost genuinely concerned for a fleeting moment - before her usual bitchiness rushes back in.

Another actress, who I’ve always thought will be a Hollywood favourite before long is Gabriella Wilde as Sue Snell who is a towering (literally) interfering lithe cog/ almost friend in the life of Carrie White (and to think this actress started out as a ‘Vampire Girl’ in the BBC’s Doctor Who!).


This CARRIE is a thoughtful, modern take on the Stephen King eternal fable, and a proud contender in the ring of King adaptations. The modern day updates to teenagers posting video clips online of cruel bullying attacks at school is realistic and smart. There’s a sense not just of the supernatural taking place here but of the demonic too; running through the movie from the start.

Scenes involving a store cupboard under the stairs and its locked white door as a point of focus are striking and effective, as they were in De Palma's vision. The perfectly judged soundtrack, full of thriving jangly rock, delicious lullabies and ominous dark throbbings of sound mixed with snippets of beautiful melody reflect the wild ride of Carrie’s life perfectly.

There’s also a hugely fun few minutes of John Waters-style Hairspray-like antics of the young cast getting ready for the prom, and the boys nearly dancing their way to getting ready for a night out while the girls put on their make-up and do their hair almost in time (actually this short scene is perfect, while not being representative of the movie as a whole – it’s real life; how we all sometimes go from deep boredom to an invitation to a party and then a sudden burst of energy; dancing to music through the house as you get ready, and then when you are ready and the music ends – you wonder if you even want to go at all anymore!).

Carrie delights in visual effects and these (and the CGI) are seamless; from glass shattering to stair crushing, roads erupting and water fountains bursting; the telekinetic treats are terrifically realised. Watch out too, on the MGM home video release (that also includes a making of) for the short film 'Telekinetic Coffee Shop Surprise' where Carrie-like special effects are tested out on complete strangers in public – try not to laugh out loud at this one.

But Carrie has some delightfully subtle touches too. The editing is fast and twitchy and sometimes out of synch (characters move their heads and then in the next scene, their heads are slightly at the wrong angle). I may be wrong – but I see this as being deliberate; reflecting the quick glancing of Carrie herself and inability to make eye contact a lot of the time. Then again, when Carrie does make eye contact – be afraid. Chloe Moretz’s eyes were designed to scare the life out of you when she does ‘that’ look!

“High school isn't a very important place. When you're going you think it's a big deal, but when it's over nobody really thinks it was great unless they're beered up.”
'Carrie' by Stephen King

It’s entirely fair and right that Stephen King’s novel of Carrie gets updated and filmed by different directors over the years in the way any literature that has made such an impact should be. This new movie version starts off with creepy insecurities all around and finishes in a showcase of final mayhem that literally sweeps Carrie off her feet and bends her body into something clearly no longer human – bent and twisted and remade by pure rage; when the drops of blood start floating towards the rafters of the prom hall off Carrie’s skin you know that something bad is going to happen; that the world is no longer a natural thing; that even gravity is dead. Long live anti-gravity and welcome to the anti-life!

The touching final moments back at the White family house are upsetting and unchangeable; almost a matter of fate. When the knives start to fly through the air I must admit, I wanted back the Brian De Palma version where the knives literally spin through the air before hitting their target; a flamboyant touch. But the wounds at the end of this film are equally as unflinching as De Palma’s vision of misery and motherly love. A final surprise ending hints at a possible sequel – actually, that would do nicely.

Case File #249/ ENDS

Reporter (confidential): Mark Gordon Palmer


Carrie (2013) All Images: © MGM/ SCREEN GEMS/ Property of SONY PICTURES
Carrie (1976) All Images: © UNITED ARTISTS
The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999) All Images: © UNITED ARTISTS


Quotes from CARRIE - by Stephen King


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