From the slut-walk movement to anti-rape protests in India, to the cover up of an alleged rape by a UK socialist party, the subjugation of women clearly remains one of the deepest rifts in society. In the wake of scandals, protests and movements, film needed a hero to reflect the fight against oppression and sexism. In 2013 one emerged from an unexpected place. Enter the revived figure of “villain” Carrie White in Kimberley Pierce’s thought-provoking remake.
The remake of Carrie has, understandably, drawn a great deal of criticism for lacking imagination. At times admittedly, it does drag, and the accusations of a lack of ambition leveled at it are not without foundation. At times it resembles a shot-for-shot remake of the 1976 original – but with something of its soul lost in translation.
Carrie’s isolation somehow seems less complete. Brilliant as Julianne Moore’s performance is as Carrie’s (Chloë Grace Moretz) stifling maternal super-ego, her tyranny still seems less all-knowing than the suffocating presence of Piper Laurie (the first Margaret White). The attempt at modernisation even feels half-hearted and empty – the product of a board-room discussion to ‘breathe new life’ into the film, rather than an organic writing decision. The use of YouTube to hound Carrie to madness then, seems more like a simple nod to the evolution of bullying, rather than a genuine attempt to critique the dehumanising effects of patriarchal ideology. It all adds up to something of that nagging dread you once felt in the pit of your stomach – that bound you so tightly to Sissy Spacek’s incarnation of the alienated protagonist – being lost.
That being said, I still loved it. And to explain why, we should examine the somewhat stunted debate surrounding it purported by male critics. “Do we really need a remake of this film?” they crow self-assuredly, scenting an easy target to help them meet their weekly quota of snobbery. And from the perspective of a white, middle-aged, well paid film critic, the answer undoubtedly appears to be no. After all, to most established columnists in the British press, being beaten and jeered at in a private school shower isn’t horror, it’s just what you might call ‘character building’, made them the men they are today and so on…
But here’s the thing: they have, perhaps understandably, missed the point. The most disturbing and thought-provoking shock that Carrie 2013,perhaps more disturbing than anything Brian De Palma’s original has to offer, is the fact that 37 years later, despite only performing a minimal facelift, its meaning remains as relevant a statement as the original. That shows up such a horrifying lack of social progress, one that clearly needed highlighting as much as the disparities between genders shown in the original.
Of course, the ‘meaning’ of Carrie has always been up for debate. Author Stephen King stated his original novel was created to play on the fear instilled in his gender at the prospect of women discovering their potential power. This inevitably led the story to be read as a warning about ‘monstrous’ liberated women – and subsequently a defence of sexist ideology. Unsurprisingly, Hollywood’s elite (who historically have treated women as little more than breathing props) were particularly dogged in their rejection of any radical themes Carrie offered – to the extent that as recently as 2012, the American Film Institute nominated Carrie White for a top “100 Villains” list at their centenary celebrations. That’s a girl hounded, beaten and bullied to her grave, a villain, because she refused her traditionally assigned role of helpless victim, and lashed out in righteous vengeance at those responsible for her suffering.
But that’s the thing – if it were just a film reinforcing the fears of men, what the hell was the point in going into so much detail about the crippling oppression she endures? Why point out the peer-pressure to conform to male-defined normality, or the violence and shaming those who dare define themselves are subjected to? Why detail the ways in which the systematic oppression of women might drive some to such lengths they hate their own daughters, sisters and peers? Doesn’t that serve to legitimise a radical and brutal response to such adversity? When Carrie (SPOILER… though if you haven’t seen this film by now then frankly you deserve every spoiler that hits you) dies lashing out at everyone who caused her misery, is that really a vanquishing of feminism as some have condemned or celebrated it as?
That’s what makes this revival from feminist director Kimberley Pierce so important. With Pierce reopening Carrie’s case file, the narrative is reclaimed. This is more than a remake, not because it radically changes the story – but changes the emphasis. It feels like a righteous vengeance flick, frankly, as Carrie tears apart everyone involved in her destruction whilst sparing those who showed her kindness. One notable alteration worth mentioning is the infamous final scene – where Carrie’s hands rise from her grave to attack her friend, who awakes to find it was a nightmare. This time, there is no cheap scare; rather Carrie White’s grave begins to crumble, and the credits role. So, the implication is the fight against injustice is neither dead, nor was it some dreamlike fantasy. It is preparing to erupt once more into a world that still desperately needs change.
That’s what separates this film from so many other soulless Hollywood resurrections. It isn’t just some vampiric knock-off of insightful or innovative output, created to enlarge the pocket-wad of some penny-snatching Hollywood exec. It adds to the legacy of Carrie 1976; firstly by flagging up 30 years on, sexism is as rife in society as ever it was, then by reclaiming the film’s narrative as a call to arms, rather than a cautionary tale about women with agency. That’s why it isn’t just another Dawn of the Dead (2004), Quarantine (2008) or Let Me In (2010). That’s why it’s worth considering just what it says about society’s norms and assumptions when critics assert that it is comparable to those tedious monstrosities. That’s why, whilst Carrie 2013 might not be the best film of the year, it remains one of the most interesting, and the most important.