APRIL 17, 2013 SCREENING: CARRIE (2002)
The 2002 made-for-TV version of “Carrie” is the most obscure of the three, with the least amount of “star power” (relatively unknown actress Angela Bettis plays Carrie, as opposed to Sissy Spacek in the original and Chloe Grace Moretz in the 2013 version). It took me forever to even track down this film on DVD, and I had been advised: “If you didn’t care for the 1976 version because you thought the actors were too old, you’re going to hate the 2002 version”. So, when I watched 2002’s Carrie I received quite a shock: I honestly think this was the best version of the three Carries, and it outperformed its more famous and legendary 1976 predecessor in almost every category: script, direction, acting, tone, set design, makeup, etc. etc.). I have to admit I’ve never read the book, but for me, this was the definitive way to tell that story.
For starters, the 2002 version was really the only version where it was believable why Carrie was mercilessly tormented by both her peers and teachers and teachers at school. Bettis’ Carrie was clearly innocent and undeserving of that ridicule, but she also clearly came across as a homely loner and “weird girl” who was a social outcast and just didn’t fit in at a public school (as compared to the 1976 and 2013 versions, which had no friends and no life when the actresses and their performance suggested Carrie was pretty and charming and should be very popular and have guys lining up to date her) The supporting characters were also far more complex and well-written than the previous film. The movie basically presents the story as a mystery crime thriller in the aftermath of all the students being killed at the prom. Police interview Carrie’s surviving classmates/teachers and a series of flashbacks show what lead up to that point and provides clues as to how it happened. The writing was razor sharp, as illustrated by one scene where the father of a popular girl at school threatens to sue the principal and the school because his daughter was punished for tormenting Carrie, only to have the principle react by recounting what his daughter had done to deserve the punishment, and threatening to counter sue by taking him through the steps he can use to build his case. Naturally, the father backs down. The one teacher that takes pity on Carrie also comes across a more three dimensional character in this version, and had a terrific bonding moment with Carrie at the prom that evoked memories of real life H.S. experiences I’ve had.
Of particular interest to me was the fact that Margaret White – the overly religious mother of Carrie who thinks everything on the planet is a sin – is portrayed the polar opposite way she was depicted in the 1976 film. Here, the mother is quiet, reserved, and has a soft-spoken but firm demeanor. She makes her daughter’s life a living hell, but you can tell she means well and doesn’t realize the harm she is doing to her emotional development. It’s also particularly heartbreaking at the end when the mother snaps and tries to drown Carrie after her daughter had manifested her powers and massacred everyone. This worked for me 10X better than the hysterical deranged witch-hunting 1976 version did. Patricia Clarkson convinced me that I was seeing an over zealous super religious mother on screen. Piper Laurie played a one dimensional caricature of one, and it was more suited for a sketch on Saturday Night Live. The same is true of the two Carries – Sissy Spacek is supposed to be awkward social outcast, but when Carrie is crowned Prom Queen, it looks natural, since Sissy Spacek was prom queen of her high school in real life. When Angela Bettis is crowned prom queen, you have a sinking feeling that something is going to go terribly wrong and this is a set up, since no high school on earth would ever crown this girl as prom queen.
As this film is a virtual polar opposite of its 1976 predecessor, the weakest part of the film for me was the climax after Carrie is covered with pig’s blood. Until that point, the 2002 movie was better than its predecessor in every way. After that moment, the 1976 movie is far more effective. The 2002 version doesn’t even show Carrie in a rage, but rather comes up with some cope out explanation that she basically goes into a “trance” and stands there, blanking out, while everyone else gets vaporized her powers. Apparently the 2002 version was also meant to continue onward as a TV series, since its also the only version where Carrie doesn’t die at the end, but is revealed to have escaped. There are two post-pig’s blood areas of the film that are superior to the 1976 movie, and not surprisingly they’re both times where the ’76 film deviated from the source material. In the 2002 movie, as in the novel, Carrie kills her mother in self-defense by stopping her heart (it was assumed this wouldn’t work on screen in 1976, but the 2002 version cuts away to an image of her mother’s heart being squeezed to death with a cool CGI effect) and in 2002, it shows that Carrie destroys the entire town, rather than just the school. The visual effects here were impressive for a TV movie, unfortunately it lacks any type of “scary” quality as Carrie is in a trance and just walks around quietly.
The 2002 Carrie only suffers because is not really a horror film, but a crime drama with supernatural elements. Still, when it comes to telling that kind of story, its extremely effective.
*** out of ****