I have extremely high standards for the handling of this particular story, even though I haven’t read the book, or even seen the 1976 classic. What I have seen is a theatrical production of the musical based on the book, which was performed a couple years ago at a nearby community college. That performance was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and it is that show, along with the Broadway production of The Lion King and the StarKid musical Twisted, which makes me fear that I may never be moved by a film in the way I have been moved by musicals on stage. I now must compare a film with a rating of 48% on Rotten Tomatoes with one of the most moving moments of my life.
Amazingly, this movie was just what the story needed.
In all honesty, here is what went through my mind as I watched it: from the moment Carrie drops into her school’s swimming pool, we are plunged into a pool of fiery pressure, where we must quietly wade as the gates of Hell creak in the distance. We know it’s only a matter of time before Hell breaks loose, so we watch anxiously to see which flame will be the one to push open the gates, allowing the fire to consume us all. But that’s not the scary part; the horror is in our powerlessness to do a thing about it.
So what is this fire? That’s simple.
I have absolutely no interest in the average horror film, which tries to make what’s on the screen terrifying. I have no patience for a film that flashes scary images on screen or makes me anxious about a fictitious terror. (I already have to deal with plenty of fear in my real life, so I don’t need anymore of it in my entertainment unless it’s really worth it.) What excites me is a film that makes me detest reality and fear life itself. To do this, one must capture the essence of powerlessness, and high school is the perfect setting for achieving such a thing. The scenes that show the inadequacy of the school principal, the misguided punishments enforced by the gym teacher, the subtle mockery provided by the English teacher, and the overall inability of the school system to handle abused students are the ones that have a lasting sting and send shivers.
The scenes with Carrie’s mother truly strike fear and rage into my heart, since I know that similar households could easily exist perpetually without anyone ever raising an eyebrow. The portrayal of the mother, in my view, is spot on, making me cringe and nearly scream. It is that particular character that stirred me up in a way few other characters in film have before, particularly with her relentless superstitious attribution, forcing the world to meet her particular worldview just so that she can process it. That is perhaps the most despicable element of religion, and it brings to mind the philosophical question of Sam Harris’, “If someone doesn’t value logic, what logical argument could you provide to show the importance of logic?” The line in this movie that really sticks out to me is when Carrie retorts some of her mother’s nonsense by saying, “That’s not even in the Bible! It doesn’t say that anywhere!” There are thousands, or maybe millions, who similarly display vehement dedication to their own imaginary edition of the Bible that happens to conform perfectly to their worldview, and this film is a delightfully horrifying reminder.
This story can be, when done right, a masterpiece in cynicism and disgust. I think it ought to be contrasted to Disney’s Tomorrowland, largely because Carrie‘s strength is Tomorrowland‘s weakness – the resemblance to reality. When one considers the much beloved 1976 Carrie movie, which I must confess I analyze based on the trailer alone, it seems to have a surreal, theatrical, otherworldly style. Generally, this is the style I greatly prefer in film, and I think that the ’70s film has shots in it with an an outstandingly fantastic look . . . just not for this story. I can’t look at a very ’70s movie about a girl with a goofy accent and take it seriously, especially if it goes so far as to cast John Travolta as the highschool hunk, which just sounds like a parody of ’70s movies (although casting Ansel Elgort may be the modern equivalent). Frankly, the trailer to the 1976 film makes me laugh, which is exactly what should not happen. This story must be portrayed as close to reality as possible, which does not become the issue it did with Tomorrowland since it’s so obviously a fantasy story.
The movie has the same Tomorrowland-like goal of shouting its message to the world, but it does so by bluntly displaying our society’s detestable ugliness. This, in turn, makes it beautiful. As a visual experience, it’s just fine (even though it’s not my style). As a story though, it is stunningly gorgeous, with a build up that screeches with the scraping of Hell’s gates pushing against the floor in fractions of a centimeter, expelling “nails on a blackboard” from the phrasebook, only to reach an immensely satisfying conclusion to drive its point home. It boldly declares to everyone, “Your world is so miserably broken that only so much as one little tweak to the laws of nature could end hundreds of lives and destroy cities.