Sunday, August 31, 2014

Versus - Carrie

High school is Hell. And the further down the ladder you are, the more like Hell it becomes."
~ Stephen King

I was one of several Carrie Whites' in my high school. There's always at least one: a drab little Nothing Girl with shapeless clothes and a face full of angry red zits, shuffling through the halls with her head down and her eyes on the floor. She's the Ugly Girl, the one the boys make dog barking noises at when she walks by, the one the girls decide is both a butch dyke and a total whore, depending on what day of the week it is. She clutches her books close to her chest in a death grip, because she knows how easily they can be knocked from her arms to scatter across the floor, and how it takes forever to pick them up while everyone laughs at her. She's the girl who never uses her locker, because it always has graffiti scrawled on it: bitch, slut, skank, etc. She's the girl who always and without fail bleeds through her clothes every single time she gets her period, so that everyone at school can point and laugh at the spreading stain on her ass. She learns to carry an extra sweater around, preferably in a dark color, so she can tie it around her waist if need be. She is made fun of for not looking like everyone else. If she tries to dress nicer, copy the styles of her classmates, she is slammed viciously back down for daring to attempt to fit in. She eats her lunch alone, spends a lot of time hiding in the bathroom stalls and sits at the front of the school bus, away from the noisy boys at the back. If she has to walk home, she'll hide in the library until most everyone is gone, thereby lessening the chance of being followed home by Mean Girls who throw things and threaten to "kick her ass."

It's a lonely existence. Some girls don't make it out alive. Those of us who do face years of crippling self doubt, low self esteem and depression. Being forced to walk into an environment filled with people who hate you and want nothing more than to tear you down 8 hours a day, five days a week is like walking naked into a maximum security prison and being raped, viciously and repeatedly, over and over and over again every single day for years. And, much like rape victims, you're constantly being told that it must be something you are doing wrong to be bringing all of this negative attention upon yourself. If you'd just ignore it, it would go away. They'll get bored and leave you alone if only you would stop showing them how much it hurts you. 
There's really no constructive way to cope with bullying - or at least there wasn't back in the 70s and 80s when it was happening to me. Bullying wasn't an acknowledged issue back then. It was dismissed as "well that's just the way kids are." Even my teachers would tell me: "Well, you'd better learn how to deal with it." So most of us retreated into fantasy worlds to buoy ourselves, creating visions in which we were the triumphant lost princesses, the victorious Cinderellas, the objects of admiration and envy. All of the girls wanted to be our friends, all of the boys worshipped us. Even the unattainable crushes we secretly pined for eventually came to realize that they loved us, and went out of their ways to win us. I also found an outlet in horror movies. I never wanted to be the Final Girl, the one who destroys the monster at the end. I wanted to be the one that the monsters saw as an equal. I wanted to be Freddy Krueger's girlfriend, Jason Voorhees little sister, Pinhead's best buddy. I understood their rage, and I wanted to believe that they would recognize me as Different; not someone to be killed, but someone to be protected. I didn't want to stop the monster - I wanted to be the monster. 

Carrie was a very important movie, shedding light on the reality of bullying and giving us a total horror movie role reversal. It was one of the first horror movies that made us want to see death, justified multiple murder, a complete and therapeutic slaughter of everyone and everything that heretofore had been deemed normal and acceptable. It gave us an opportunity to watch the sacrificial lamb turn around and execute the wolf pack in an explosion of absolute white hot rage. 

So I'm just a tad prejudiced when it comes to the tale of Carrie White, be it book, movie or remake. For me, it's not the way the story is told so much as the tale itself. 

Well, unless it's the 2002 version, starring Angela Bettis. No disrespect to Angela, whose starring role in May was a better version of Carrie than Carrie 2002 could ever be, but 2002's Carrie was just absolute, unwatchable shit. We'll be ignoring that one.

Year released: 1976
Directed by: Brian De Palma (The Untouchables, and that shit bomb of a movie called The Black Dahlia)
Starring: Sissy Spacek, Steven Speilberg's first wife, Piper Laurie, Vincent Vega, The Greatest American Hero and that chick who played the stepmom on Eight Is Enough. 

The Good:

This movie deserves respect. It is iconic. It paved the way for many movies to come including the aforementioned May, Ginger Snaps, Let The Right One In, The Craft and Suspiria. It's a very realistic portrayal of the small town high school society of the 70s, boasting great performances and creating a solid foundation upon which people like John Carpenter, Rob Zombie and Joe Dante would continue to build and establish the next generation of horror.

I absolutely love this shot of Carrie, which occurs just as she's finishing her destruction of the gymnasium, descending the stage stairs and preparing to exit the school for the last time. She casts a last look around, as if in regret, and she almost seems to be thinking: "It didn't have to be this way. It could have been beautiful. But they left me no choice." For me, it's the saddest scene in the movie.

The Bad:

It hasn't aged well. And it's mostly a build up to the final fifteen minutes. Very little of Carrie's growing powers are displayed until she unleashes them at the prom. A slamming window here, a cracked mirror there, but all very underwhelming stuff. Unless you've read the book beforehand, the telekinetic eruption that takes place at the climax almost comes as a surprise. And the scene itself takes about five minutes total. Then it's over. 

The character of Carrie herself isn't really explored. We know she's an outcast, we know her mother is crazy, but the movie shows us very little of her molding and shaping over the years. Carrie has been physically and mentally abused for years, cowed by her mother's religious mania. Her very conception was the breaking point of her mother's sanity and her telekinetic powers - which have been in evidence since she was a baby - seen as the very manifestation of guilt and sin. 

Similarly, the character of Sue Snell isn't very convincingly drawn either. The scene in which she asks her boyfriend to take Carrie to the prom is very misleading, displaying none of the altruism that King went to great pains to describe in the book. We hear Sue ask Tommy to do it, then cut to a scene of Tommy reluctantly agreeing, followed by Sue smiling a small, almost mischievous smile. Is she in on the joke? It's hard to tell, unless - again - you've read the book. 

Year released: 2013
Directed by: Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry)
Starring: Chloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Portia Doubleday, that kid who was just in The Fault In Our Stars and Gabriella Wilde. 

Oh, wherefore was my birth from Heaven foretold 
Twice by an Angel, who at last, in sight 
Of both my parents, all in flames ascended...
Typically, this movie was doomed to be slammed. You can't remake a classic and expect to be welcomed with open arms. Carrie needed a remake, or an updating, or a re-imagining, or whatever you want to call it. Some remakes really are unnecessary - The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for example: the original remains timeless and accessible. But Carrie needed an updating for the 21st century. 1976 seems centuries past now, and if you want to reach your intended target of bullied girls who see Facebook pages spring up dedicated to their ruination, you simply have to update your fairy tale to modern times.

The Good:

The casting of Chloe Grace Moretz was also frowned upon. Some said she was "too pretty" to be Carrie and that her torment was not believable due to this fact. Obviously, anyone who believes such bullshit has never been bullied themselves. Pretty girls are bullied every damn day - that's part of the power that bullying holds over its targets: it can make swans truly believe they are ugly ducklings.

It was also nice to see Carrie finally played by an actual teenager. Moretz was 15 when she did this movie, whereas Spacek was 26.

The relationship between Carrie and her mother Margaret is also finally expanded upon. There are moments of genuine affection and love between daughter and mother on display here, and a real feeling that Margaret wants only to protect her daughter from the cruel world, like any normal mom would. Her mental illness isn't as all-consuming here and, indeed, it just makes the moments when we see Carrie being abused by Margaret all the more difficult to bear.

It was no fault of the 1976 version that the destruction of the town following the prom wasn't depicted - there simply wasn't enough money in the budget. This film gets its funds and uses them to finally and at long last deliver the Biblical proportionate leveling of the town by Carrie. Hallelujah. It was also much more satisfying to see Carrie so utterly enraged, gesticulating and expressing her fury through motion, whereas Spacek simply stood stock still in a bug eyed trance, and you couldn't tell whether or not her classmates were aware of the fact that she was the one directing the mayhem. You're sure here - there's no mistaking that everyone realizes, too late, that Carrie is doing this to them.

The Bad:

It does indeed, in this day and age, seem difficult to believe that Carrie would know nothing of menstruation. It was more likely back in the 70s, considering the small town, the lack of internet and the New England archetypes. But when the local library offers Wifi, surely she would have eventually stumbled across a Kotex ad or two, at the very least?

Gabrielle Wilde cannot act.
At least, she couldn't in this film.
Maybe she's improved since.
But she sucked as Sue Snell.

And The Winner Is:

Every bullied girl who ever sought out Carrie, from the 70s to the present. This story was for them and them alone, and the incarnation of choice doesn't make a damn bit of difference. This was never "just" a horror movie, or a 70s movie, or a single set piece for a single moment in time. Carrie was never meant to be a Zeitgeist. She's the elemental manifestation of every girl who has ever been made to feel like she didn't matter and never would. Carrie herself, as a representative for every tormented teenage girl, wins for existing at all as an example and an outlet for the frustration and loneliness within us all.

So there.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed the remake very much. Chloe Grace Moretz was amazing in the role of Carrie.


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