Director: Kimberly Peirce
Stars: Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer, Portia Doubleday, Alex Russell, Gabriella Wilde, Ansel Elgort
Running time: 99 minutes
Mention the name Carrie to a stranger on the street and chances are they will instantly recall an image of Sissy Spacek in a prom dress, drenched in pig's blood, her wide eyes screaming bloody murder. The violent and chilling climax to Brian De Palma's 1976 adaptation of Stephen King's breakthrough 1974 novel, about a bullied telekinetic high school outcast who reaches her breaking point and uses her powers on her classmates, is that iconic.
In remaking Carrie, director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry) and Chloë Grace Moretz, the new Ms. White, made some significant changes to the infamous scene, from the antihero's expressions to her use of telekinesis and the focus of her rage. Does it work better? Does it work at all? Two of Complex's Pop Culture critics—staff writer Matt Barone and deputy editor Justin Monroe—watched Carrie and debated the prom scene. [Spoiler Alert: They discuss specifics. If you've never seen the 1976 Carrie, or prefer to go into a movie blind, stop here.]
Matt Barone: One of the reasons why De Palma's prom scene is so damn effective and unsettling is how Spacek plays it: with subtlety. She never seems superhuman, whereas in this remake, Carrie suddenly becomes a superhuman monster and symphony orchestrator. It's a tonal mess. The remake is never scary or tense because it's so showy and overdone, and the prom scene is the prime example of that. I'm so baffled by Matthew Zoller Seitz’s tweets.
Justin Monroe: I think Peirce and Moretz brought something important to the prom scene: the emotion, the rage, the realization of all those vengeful thoughts that the victimized have about torturing their tormentors. Sissy Spacek's performance in De Palma’s version is great but the rampage is emotionless and robotic. It's as if she's not controlling herself anymore. She appears possessed. In this version, you see something more realistic. Moretz’s bullied Carrie is evidently taking some mad pleasure in the carnage, having snapped under the abuse, and now she’s enacting all these violent revenge fantasies. Kids who get bullied aren't ambivalent about their tormentors. They don't shoot up schools like robots unless they were sociopathic to begin with. Sissy Spacek's Carrie opens her eyes wide but there's nothing registering on her face to tell you that she is finally acting out revenge fantasies. That's part of what makes Gus Van Sant's Elephant so disturbing, that the school shooters are laughing and enjoying their massacre.
Matt: What I love in De Palma's is how, right before she starts tearing shit up, we hear her mother saying "They're all gonna laugh at you!" on loop. THAT'S why she just kills everyone. She doesn't care who's innocent and who's not. When they're laughing, you can't really tell if that's just in her head or not. It makes the whole thing creepier to me.
Justin: That is a great nugget from De Palma’s version but it still doesn't explain why she wipes people out as if she's a cyborg.
Matt: She doesn't seem like a cyborg to me.
Justin: Her face doesn't change. There's no register of any emotion as she gets revenge.
Matt: She's in control. It's in her eyes and how she moves her head to enact everything. It's more sinister to me that way.
Justin: But she's supposed to be a teenage girl! Teenagers brim with emotion! There's nothing of the emotional impact of it once she snaps!
Matt: I don't get that. She's not a normal teenage girl, clearly. She's mentally unstable. And there is emotion for me, because I sympathize with Spacek’s Carrie the whole time. As soon as the prom starts in this new one, Moretz is jolly, happy, having fun. Spacek has control in her prom scene, too, but it's a less euphoric control. But that's how she is as a character, the whole movie, so it wouldn't make sense for her to suddenly become this grandiose orchestrator in that moment.
Justin: I totally disagree that Spacek’s Carrie is in control during the prom scene. In both versions they seem to snap to after the bloodletting and are somewhat horrified by what they’ve done, but in Peirce’s version it seems a more conscious power play and role reversal. There's more humanity in her cruelty. She takes her time with the lead tormentor, Chris…. I agree that the telekinetic flying through the air was…a bit much, but the grandiose orchestration is the fantasy of the victim. It’s in the spirit of Stephen King’s book, where, after the tampon scene, Carrie thinks to herself: Imagine Chris Hargensen all bloody and screaming for mercy. With rats crawling all over her face. Good. Good. That would be good. … Crash in her head with a rock, with a boulder. Crash in all their heads. Good. Good. She's given some thought to how she would punish everyone well before she snaps.
In Carrie’s confrontation with her mom before the prom, Peirce lingers more on the turning tables. Her mom has controlled her all her life but she realizes she has power and no longer needs to listen to anyone or be anyone's whipping girl. At the prom, these people who’ve pushed her around and mocked her are fucking ants to her now. I also liked that this one had a real moment where Carrie goes back to fallen Tommy when the metal bucket hits him. It didn't make sense to me that in the original that she didn't have more of a moment with him. He genuinely seems to have her back.
Matt: I totally disagree with your Spacek points, but I can see your point more with Moretz's prom scene. The more I think about it, the prom scene doesn't bother me so much as the movie up until that. By that time I wasn't on board. I'm not mad at them turning Carrie into an domestic abuse victim who's introverted and shell-shocked by life. The execution just didn't work for me. I had trouble buying Chloë Moretz overall, though I don't think she gives a bad performance. She and Julianne Moore just didn't feel right for this movie. I'm guessing [Moretz, Moore,] and Kimberly Peirce signed on to make a different movie that the studio ultimately wouldn't allow them to make.
Justin: It's truer to Stephen King’s book in some ways, and I think Peirce's main intention was to bring change to the climax, to capture the emotions of a bullied high school girl who loses her shit and take advantage of CGI developments. While the prom scene worked for me as a depiction of a abuse victim lashing out, I too had a hard time believing Carrie was a friendless outcast to get to that point. She wasn't weird or fundamentalist enough for me to buy that a girl who is clearly attractive wouldn't have any friends or suitors at school. Nobody, not even the geeks and nerds would take her in? For that to be the case, you really have to play up the fundamentalist aspects of her, not just her mom. Carrie should be walking around in an ankle-length burlap dress saying uncool shit like, "Happy birthday, Chris! May you remember that Jesus died for your sins and live a prayerful, wholesome life this year!"
Matt: There's one line where Chris is like, "She's been telling us we're all going to hell since the 6th grade," but that's not enough. That's the only moment where I got a sense about why these girls don't like Carrie and pick on her so much, other than them just being terrible people.
Justin: I enjoy Moretz, especially in the prom scene, but it really is a shame that the studio cast an attractive actor to play Carrie. People place such an importance on looks in the cruel world of high school that Carrie being a "chunky girl with pimples on her neck and back and buttocks," as King describes her in the book, would’ve changed things dramatically. Her home life, with her mentally unstable and abusive zealot mother, is supposed to explain her isolation, but it would be easier to accept her as isolated if she were more physically repellent.
Matt: I do like your earlier point about how she relishes the killing of Chris, in the car. Ultimately, I'll end up appreciating the prom scene in this movie more so than anything else, even if it's a somewhat conflicted appreciation.