MINOR SPOILER WARNING
This is one review that I didn’t think I’d ever be writing. Some readers may recall the first time I reviewed a Carrie adaptation – when I saw the 2013 Carrie movie – at which point I decided that the original Brian de Palma film was not for me. I was in a place in life when I wanted to see the story taken very seriously, and I didn’t want it to be too fun, too silly, too campy – with the possible exception of the ending. For anyone with any familiarity with the Stephen King story, the ending is the part where, no matter how serious and dramatic the adaptation has been up until this point, the viewers had better throw their hands in the air and get ready to ride this roller-coaster down into the pits of Hades, laughing and screaming all the way. Still, this is one of the very few stories for which I feel it is best for a film to do as good of a job as possible at making everything seem very real, believable, and even mundane for the first two acts – employing an almost Our Town-like structure in saving the fantastic elements for the ending. Much to my surprise, this movie mostly sticks to this form, offering much more realism than I would have expected. The fact that so much of de Palma’s film makes it feel like these could be real people in a real high school assuages most of the concerns I had about about watching this movie, but the parts that are over-the-top and expressionistic are the kind of fun ’70s cult horror moments that my recent fascination with this sub-genre has made me crave.
When I wrote the review for the 2013 movie, I was in a different place in life. I wanted to approach this story as seriously as possible and find in it something that could be used to express to the older generations why it is that so many teenagers suffer from depression and anxiety these days. The 1976 film doesn’t work for that, but it might have served that purpose back in its day, leading me to suspect that – in general – the best version of Carrie is whichever one best expresses the anxieties to the viewers in its time. The film I watched first may have been best for 2013 (at least for teenage viewers) while the 1976 film was probably best for the 1970s – each feels very much like a reflection of its time. That’s why the ’76 version needs to be approached differently now – it’s a time-capsule, and the fashions of the era have not aged well. As I’d initially feared, much of it is comical, but even some of the cheesiest moments with John Travolta feel they could have happened back then. That being said, part of why I loved this movie so much is the stuff that doesn’t feel normal at all. I watched this movie specifically because I wanted to see more of the kind of thing Brian de Palma did with Phantom of the Paradise, so I wanted to laugh, to feel confused, to have fun, and to cheer as the style got very expressionistic and experimental. I came into this movie with the goal of seeing weird little kinks like sped-up dialogue to get us through a scene faster and a split-screen effect that shows two aspects of the same action – and I kind of wanted everything to be a joke.
Still, while that may seem like the exact opposite of what I wanted from this story when I watched the 2013 film, there are some things that I would’ve had to admit are perfect here even if I’d watched this movie back in the summer of 2015. Julianne Moore may be a great actress, but the mother in this film is obviously superior, making the character seem believably uncanny for most of the film and then delightfully creepy in the end. Even the Carrie in this film, whom I’d suspected I would have a hard time taking seriously with her acting style and her accent, is generally as relatable, likable, and believable as I’d like, and is exactly as scary as one would hope by the end. The final scene is absolutely perfect and gave me a bigger scare than anything I’ve seen on screen in a long time – in a good way. Even the colors, which I thought would detract from the reality of the world, actually make sense because they come from the lights at the prom, so the parts that feel theatrical still feel plausible and very much at home here. Then, of course, there is the visual poetry in the resemblance between Carrie’s mother and the creepy Jesus figure, which may not have much of a deep meaning in this story, but it’s a heck of a cherry on top.
It’s also worth making it clear that most of the things critics complained about in the 2013 film aren’t very different from the 1976 film that is so critically revered. The Carrie in this movie is just as pretty as Chloe Grace Moretz, and it actually seems less plausible that Sissy Spacek would have been considered too strange-looking to be one of the popular girls. Critics complained that the 2013 film isn’t scary enough, but this film isn’t much scarier, and that’s not really the point of the story anyway. Critics argued that the Moretz film lacked a build-up to the finale that the story requires, but I felt the build-up about equally across each film – although that may have been because I already knew the story before watching either movie. I will concede that the critics are right in pointing out that, in comparison to de Palma’s work, Kimberly Peirce’s film didn’t seem to do much with the story that stood out – she didn’t get very playful, and one could call her work rather boring – but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing if the aim is making everything feel normal for most of the film (again, I refer to Our Town). With that said, however, it is the Brian de Palma film that must go down in history as a classic because it manages to be such a great and important drama while being a bundle of fun and laughter. As far as I’m concerned, while it may not be the kind of horror that most people are used to, this is the ultimate horror classic (excluding horror comedies like Gremlins) and I love it just the way it is.