Kimberly Peirce’s filmic adaptation of the 1974 Stephen King novel, Carrie, had a lot to live up to. After all, not only is the novel immensely popular, but Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation is held by many including myself to be a classic of horror cinema. And in some respects, Peirce’s adaptation indeed succeeded admirably. First and foremost, it succeeded in drawing together a terrific cast including Julianne Moore, Kick-Ass’s Chloë Grace Moretz, and Judy Greer, who I’ve adored ever since first encountering her in the James Gunn-penned superhero comedy, The Specials (2000). And newcomer Ansel Elgort, who plays Carrie’s prom date Tommy, may be no William Katt (and let’s face it, there will only ever be one William Katt), but he is still incredibly charismatic. What’s more, I found it refreshing to finally get a woman’s take on this definitively feminine tale.
Beyond that, however, my qualms with the picture are too numerous for me to be able to genuinely recommend it. From the outset, this incarnation of Carrie lays everything on thick. Carrie’s mother is crazy, Carrie is socially awkward, and the girls she goes to school with are incredibly mean. Those things have always been a part of the story, sure, but there’s too much of it to begin with. It takes Peirce’s Carrie seven whole minutes to get to the exact point in the narrative where De Palma’s adaptation opened. That in and of itself is not a problem, I’ll grant you that. After all, why adapt a book that’s already been adapted if you’re simply going to do the same damn thing again, right? The problem here is that the additional material here ultimately contributes almost nothing to our understanding of the characters and the narrative as they appeared in the 1976 version. It therefore serves as little more than padding.
What’s more, Peirce’s Carrie is no longer the meek and inhibited, sheltered young woman in desperate need of guidance that she was in previous incarnations. Here she’s strong and independent, having found in YouTube the guidance she never found in her mother. There is, as a general rule, nothing wrong with a strong and independent female protagonist. In fact, it’s an overwhelmingly good thing. In this instance, however, strength and independence undermines the horror and the tragedy of Carrie. Carrie is too stable in that she teaches herself to control her telekinesis. Her self-awareness and intelligence makes her telekinetic killing spree in the climax less believable, and downright laughable to boot as she flies around wide-eyed at everybody. She should kill her peers because she doesn’t know any better, not because she is a strong, independent woman and not because she wants vengeance. Her climactic turn should be tragic, and it can only be so if she’s not fully cognizant of what she’s doing. To knowingly use her powers for the purpose of revenge makes her unlikable, but we should feel so, so sorry for Carrie. Therein lies the tragedy of the character as envisioned by King and De Palma. Instead, I’m just sorry that I couldn’t find more enjoyment in this picture.
That said, I can see how it appeals to others. It’s a sleek-looking picture with a talented young cast. It’s got a woman in the director’s chair. And the narrative plays out far more conventionally than the novel or the De Palma film did, thereby making it more palatable to a broad audience. But it’s most certainly not for me.
Carrie arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on January 14, 2014 from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. The Blu-ray release boasts a greater selection of special features than the DVD, including the ability to view the film with an alternate ending, a “Bringing Back Carrie” featurette, deleted/extended scenes with commentary by director Kimberly Peirce, feature commentary by Peirce, “The Power of Telekinesis,” “Telekinetic Coffee Shop Surprise,” and the theatrical trailer.