Kimberly Peirce’s films are signs of the times and her latest film "Carrie" opens in San Francisco on Oct 18. “Boys Don’t Cry” (1998), was one of the first motion pictures to deal with a transgender hate crime. “Stop - Loss” (2008) explored a character who involuntarily had to return to Iraq during this unpopular military war and service codes. Now Pierce has tackled the holy ground of “Carrie” and unearthed her. The film stands as a high quality interpretation on a cinematic level approaching the original.
Take a look at "Carrie" from 1976 after you see the new "Carrie" (2013) to witness the reinvention of the story for this generation. Today we have expanded the possibilities for bullying to such an extent that it goes beyond the girl’s locker room into cyberspace. It is a “miracle” that Carrie didn’t kill herself as some young girls have today whose lives have been hung out to dry by insensitive peers. The “Carrie” that Stephen King based his novel on in 1974 was a real life person whose mother (no father mentioned) was a contest fanatic. The girl wore the same outfit to school everyday and was teased mercilessly, even moreso when one day she wore something stylish. Later she married and eventually killed herself.
To address Carrie's insecurities, Peirce told the SF Film Industry Examiner in San Francisco last week that she has equipped her with “superpowers”. They are more arduous and expressive, more snap, crackle and pop than Sissy Spacek’s bug eye fixation on objects that move telekinetically - through psychokinesis, a power often seen in Hollywood movies. An absent father, a demented mother and brutal young classmates can certainly transform a young woman, so telekinetic powers are clearly a way out of the abuse.
This Carrie is younger than the mature 24 year old Spacek at the time, who brought to the role an interpretation immortalized in film history. This Carrie in real life is 16. Chloë Grace Moretz shows more timidity and reserve than in "Kick Ass" and Clark Kent before he runs for a phone booth to make his wardrobe change as Superman. But she gradually becomes the girl that learns how to use psychokinesis, outsmart her mother who locks her in the closet to contemplate Jesus and her sins and outshine her classmates with her visceral symbolist poems.
The budget for this film allowed for some jolting special effects such as Carrie’s attempt at navigating her telekinetic powers. It is not really mentioned in the 1976 "Carrie" but this version shows her at the library researching about her powers and a classmate even tells her where she can find audiovisual material about this on the net. No one shows Carrie how to harness her power, which we learn in other Superhero stories like Spiderman, and Batman.It is quite true that you need to use your hands, not just your eyes when moving objects telekinetically. She tries to remind her mother that her grandmother had this power.
Julianne Moore redefines Margaret White who is not only a religiously twisted woman but whose self-mutilation is more graphic. In that home "confessional", locked in by Carrie who goes off to the prom, she also wants out. Peirce shows her at work as a seamstress in a small shop and her seam ripper and other sewing equipment become new instruments for drawing blood. We see that her life is one huge closet and Moore's performance is outstanding in showing all the angst of that confinement. Peirce has demonstrated that she knows how to work with actors and get the best from them. Moore is so likely a candidate for an Oscar in this film.
On the athletic field at Carrie's high school are fashion conscious heterosexual young women and at the ritualistic prom the same heteronormative crowd gathers. It would have been refreshing to see a few tomboys since Peirce has successfully changed some of the iconography in her modern tale for gender normative teens to witness. Peirce would have liked that too and explained when she was in San Francisco last week that she is bound by the "real estate" of the film to move within certain parameters.
The prom queen crown is the Holy Grail of high school, and Peirce succeeds in piercing the facade of the spectacle in the highpoint of the film. There are enough changes in the new Carrie's rampage to pin spectators to their seats with art direction by Nigel Churcher ("Resident Evil", "The Virgin Suicides", "Safe House"). The beauty of Carrie is that she is a brave young woman with so many disadvantages to overcome hurled at her from birth through her rite of passage in becoming an adult. She embodies the preciousness and cruelty of youth as does everyone around her.
It is inevitable that there will be comparisons with the novel and the Brian De Palma’s "Carrie", the other versions movie and this one. In almost every sense this update gels, from the gutsy gym teacher Ms. Desjardin (Judy Greer) to bad girl (brutal Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) and conscionable good girl, Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) who prompts her good-natured boyfriend Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort) to take Carrie to the prom.
It is not only the characters that are brilliant it is the state of the art film technology that creates an update like this visually pleasurable. Those who bemoan the original as the only interpretation possible should take a look again. Compare the grasp of the cinematography in this film (Steve Yedlin), from the underwater opening scene where the torsos of young women are shot, to the volleyball game on court, to the quintessential horror show of the prom and aftermath. The picture language is multi-dimensional and opens the classic up to modern proportions. That is what a good update does.
Stephen King’s novel "Carrie" has historically been banned in schools. Some of those reasons are evident in the new Carrie as well as the old. Blood, the first blood of a young woman in King’s first short story draft, releases hormones that cause telekinesis. That plan was scrapped. Had it not been for his wife Tabitha, the novel, which was dedicated to her, wouldn’t have been written. He wrote it on a dare to begin with because he was accused of not being able to write about women.
King wrote "Carrie" as a high school teacher but called it “a cookie baked by a first grader”. Maybe he has insecurities about the popularity of Carrie because it is a story about a girl with “menstrual problems" as he put it. However, Peirce has delivered a soufflé that actually stays up, following the archetype of the original with new twists.
Not only is there blood but blood sports and rituals. The site of Margaret's blood during the birth of Carrie is new, and the threat of piercing flesh to draw blood is frequently shown. A young girl's rite of passage is born of blood, which for Margaret inevitably led to rape. Protecting her child is her mission and to keep her in place she insists on zealous chasteness. Promiscuity is a sign of possession, so Margaret must possess her daughter.
"Carrie's" success in 1976 fit in the chronology of horror stories of the time about girls – from "Rosemary’s Baby"(1968) who give birth to Satan’s child to the "The Exorcist" (1973) with Linda Blair. Today we have many more models of women of all ages that have superpowers. Add “Kick-Ass” 'Hit Girl' Moretz to the list in Kimberly Peirce's "Carrie".