Carrie (2013): Kimberly Peirce’s Unnecessary Remake?

It’s hard to think of another indie director who began on such a high note and then fell from grace than Kimberly Peirce.  In 1999, she helmed the Oscar-winning “Boy Don’t Cry“ and then took a decade to make her second feature, “Stop Loss,” which was both a critical and commercial flop.

And now comes Peirce’s only third feature in fifteen years, an unnecessary, undistinguished, and humorless remake (sorry, reimagining) of “Carrie,” Brian De Palma’s darkly humorous, thematically witty, visually brilliant film, made in 1976.

No wonder the studio behind it—it’s a Screen Gems production released by Sony–has imposed embargo on reviews until today. Opening tonight, “Carrie” is not exactly critics-proof, but as a generic item it should yield quick cash in wide release. Sony is smart to release the picture two weeks before Halloween, when the market will be flooded by horror flicks, good and bad, schlock and arty.

Likely to be dismissed by most critics, especially when compared to De Palma’s version, which among other things made a star out of Sissy Spacek, who surprisingly received a Best Actress Oscar nomination. The 1976 also elevated the stature of John Travolta, who became a star a year later in the disco musical-melodrama, “Saturday Night Fever.”

De Palma’s “Carrie” is arguably one of the best screen versions of any Stephen King novella. The material, with its dark humor, nasty revenge, and opportunity to display visual pyrotechnics, fitted De Palma’s sensibility like a silk glove.

Carrie is an outcast par excellence, an unloved (to say the least) adolescent, raised at home by a fanatically religious mother and cruelly tormented at school by her classmates, all factor that lead to a dramatic boil, when in the girl, seeking revenge, unleashes her extraordinary telekinetic powers.

The new movie is clearly targeted at a new generation of moviegoers, who may or may not be familiar with the 1976 film, though De Palma’s “Carrie” has become a cult movie, often shown on TV, and (I am told) continuously popular DVD rental.

Do not get me wrong, the subject—high-school bullying—may be timelier and more relevant today than it was back in the 1970s, due to the alarming proportions of this problems over the past decade or so. But if you remake a good, classic, or cult picture, you have to make sure that you bring something new to the text. (Gus Van Sant made the same fatal error in 1998 with his inane remake of Hitchcock’s best-known film, “Psycho” of 1960).

But it’s hard to see what exactly motivated Peirce to the tale as she fails to bring a fresh perspective on the story or its characters, and she certainly lacks the bravura baroque style that De Palma possesses in abundance.

The best to be said about this “Carrie” is that it is not as bad or pointless as the sequel to the 1976 version, “Carrie 2,” or as silly to the TV rendition.