The most recent Carrie film is a bit conceited in the fact that it assumes none of the viewing audience knows anything about this story. Consider the tagline, “You Will Know Her Name”, as if any one of us needs an introduction to Carrie White. This marketing, along with a trailer that works more as a synopsis than a teaser, creates an assumption that this Carrie will belong in the current remake trend of ignoring the original properties and presenting the narrative as a self-contained, cultural vacuumed piece of entertainment. Surprisingly though, this Carrie, directed by Kimberly Peirce, not only works under the assumption we all communally know this story, but it adds some modern elements that update and revitalize the character. While mostly positive, this updating ultimately rears its ugly CGI head in the third act and digitally pulls the film’s legs out from under itself. So, with that in mind, does the good outweigh the bad here? Who wins, story or spectacle?
As stated above, the synopsis of Carrie is pretty well known at this point. An outcast, teenaged girl, who happens to have a religious zealot as a parent and some telekinetic powers, struggles to make it through high school. The rest of the story, as in the previous iterations, plays out as a thinly veiled morality play of puberty, bullying, and finding a place in life. And for the most part this film plays out pretty darn closely to what has come before. With the exception of some updated social media and technology plot points the same story plays out on screen with very little variation. This lack of deviation plays it dangerously close to that line between good and bad. On one hand, this paint by number approach robs the film of any sense of spontaneity or tension. On the other hand, Peirce is a skilled enough director that she is allowed to spend her time creating modern flourishes within this known container, instead of using the majority of her time on world building.
And that’s where this Carrie really shines. When Peirce, who also directed Boys Don’t Cry, is given access to spend time in the world of girl-on-girl bullying, this film achieves a level of feminism critique that has been missing from the cinematic portrayals of this story. She spends a large portion of the film really wallowing in what it means to be a young female and the dangers of sabotage from within their own sex. While the “boy vs. girl” dynamic has been well trodden in horror, the “girl vs. girl” paradigm has been mostly untapped. The fact that Peirce taps into that social construct, and successfully so, makes Carrie disqualified from ever being labeled a bad film. The final act, though, also guarantees it will never be truly branded a good film.
The final act is the pig’s blood onwards. We all know what that means, it means retribution and explosions. This is in the source material so one couldn’t reasonably expect it to be absent from this version. A viewer could hope, however, for something a bit more subtle, a bit less computer generated, and a bit more contextually appropriate. In this version, when things go big, they go real big. So big, in fact, you could get the feeling that a different director has suddenly taken over. Instead of fitting in with the rest of the film, the final act would feel more at home in a large-scale Hollywood action film. It all becomes so over the top, so effect laden, that it stops feeling real. All characters and all the subtle thematic work is tossed to the side for strangely extravagant explosions and computerized blood spatter and wounds.
This is a problem at a pacing level, a narrative level, and most importantly a character level. The final climax, which includes what should be an especially emotional scene, becomes so outlandish and exaggerated the viewer loses all connection to the story. For the eighty-percent of well crafted film, the other twenty-percent is world crashingly bad. Everything so carefully laid out in the beginning and middle of the film is betrayed and negated by the fact that it so completely rushes through the Uncanny Valley all the way to the other side of Mount I Don’t Care Anymore.