Female Filmmaker Friday: Carrie, 2013 (dir. Kimberly Peirce)

If you’ve been following my video reviews, you’ll know I did a nice long video the other night about Kimberly Peirce’s 2013 version of Stephen King’s Carrie. You can watch that video here. I’m going to repeat a few things in my analysis, but I also want to repeat that 1) I haven’t read the book 2) I don’t believe that you should compare two movies that are both adapted from other source material 3) It’s been about 10+ years since I’ve seen De Palma’s Carrie, so I couldn’t do that even if I were inclined to do so.


All that said, I quite liked this version of the story and I am kind of mad at myself for not having seen it in theaters. There were some moments that were so expertly filmed, I feel like I would have loved seeing it on the big screen. I also discovered that a good portion of the negative chatter about the film had nothing to do with the film’s merit and everything to do with complaining about it being unnecessary because De Palma’s version exists. Oh heaven forbid another artist tackles the same subject! Tell me why you didn’t like this film in and of itself or shut up.


The film starts out with one of the most gruesome births in cinematic history. This is the kind of birthing scene that can put you off ever wanting to have a baby. Giving birth is goddamned painful and often times in film, they try to depict that, but then they play it off for laughs with the mom-to-be making some snappy comment about pain meds or telling the husband it’s all his fault. Rarely do you see birth as the painful moment it really is. What women go through in order to bring forth new life has been pretty taboo in cinema for most of its history. It wasn’t until Alison Anders’ film Grace of My Heart that we had a new mother lactate on-screen and earlier this year in Neighbors, they showed engorged breasts (although they used this for a laugh about milking a woman, which almost defeated how taboo-busting the scene was). With such a violent, unwanted birth, no wonder Carrie winds up a particularly odd bird.


I remember when I first got my period, it was right before my Confirmation into the Episcopal Church when I was 13 and I was just like “dammit, I gotta wear white all day, why now?!” Good times. We don’t see a lot of stories about women and their struggle with menstruation. I’m actually really proud of Stephen King for even tackling the subject. I knew all about the changes my body was going to go through (and my brother’s too!) because my mom gave me Dr. Ruth Talks To Kids when I was about 8 or 9. That thing was graphic. But it also helped me be prepared for what life was going to bring me. I can’t imagine what it must be like to not know and then suddenly hemorrhage from your lady parts like that. But I think it would be something like what Carrie White goes through. I liked the way this was shot because at first everyone is just as confused as Carrie is, then they realize what’s going on and it is beyond them to realize Carrie is so uneducated, so Sue immediately yells the very misogynistic “plug it up!” at her (which is often used by guys to make fun of women when they discuss their period and here we see how misogyny can get internalized by women and used to bring each other down. We can’t let that happen ladies!). Then all the girls start chanting it and throwing sanitary napkins and tampons at Carrie (teenagers are so awful, especially in groups), but almost immediately after she says what she says, Sue is sorry and when the girls start chanting, the look of horror and regret on Sue’s face is really powerful.


This shot I particularly like because it shows how domineering a group can be and how alone and scared Carrie is. She’s helped by her gym teacher (Judy Greer, who is excellent as always) and somewhat by Sue, who at this point has realized that Carrie doesn’t know what’s happening to her. They mention that Carrie was homeschooled until they were about 12 or so, so it can be assumed that she missed the sex ed training at school (my school district only did sex ed in 5th grade – where they separated the girls from the boys, so who know what was taught to them!, and then again in 6th grade where we were all mixed together and everyone giggled).


I saw a lot of complaints about the film’s use of social media, to which I say go fly a kite! Social media is here and it is here to stay and within this age-group it is so prevalent, if this film were really accurate the teenagers would be on their smartphones in every shot, even when they are talking directly to each other. Also, as we have seen with both horrible pranks and stupid criminals, the desire to get likes coupled with stupidity has led many a tasteless video like this to get uploaded to YouTube and gone viral. It’s the times we live in. I liked that Peirce showed us how social media could be used for evil without being preachy about it.


This scene really breaks my heart. God, talking in front of class is the worst. I remember the girl who was essentially the Carrie of my class in high school and how she always seemed to be so brave and not give a shit when she would go up and present whatever it was she was passionate about, even as the jerks in the class would snicker at her to her face. I could never do that. Whenever I had presentations, I would often be “sick” that day because I just really hated high school and hated all my classmates and didn’t want to have to deal with their shit. (NB: Facebook has really helped heal all those high school wounds and allowed me to reconnect with people I thought hated me, so that’s cool.) But when the teacher also makes fun of Carrie! Let’s all punch this guy in the face. The worst thing is, there are so many teachers like that. It’s hard enough when your classmates are jerks, but when your teacher is just as bad as they are, what can you do? I like the Sue Snell/Tommy characters because they are good people and I really believe there are always good people like that, it’s just a pity they don’t always have the courage to speak up like Tommy does.


Two things about Tommy: 1) casting Ansel Elgort was perfect, he’s charming and has such a wonderfully affable screen presence, but he also looks like a jock in high school 2) I love this part so much because he’s come up here to ask Carrie to the prom because his girlfriend has asked him to and when he sees Carrie reading the books on telekinesis, he immediately tries to relate to her by sharing a story about him and his friends trying to levitate a dog. This is great for a couple of reasons: 1) boys so do stupid shit like that with their friends and 2) it shows that he really is a nice guy, who is trying his best to make this girl feel comfortable around him by sharing a private moment with her.


This scene is also devastating because she should be happy, but she is so used to being made fun of and tricked, and she’s so used to being abused by her mother (more on that soon), that she doesn’t have the self-esteem to believe anyone would like her for her. She’s also right, because Tommy is asking her not because he wants to, but because Sue has asked him to do so. But it’s not out of malice and she can kind of tell that, but it’s still tough. I love this shot because it tells you everything you need to know about how Carrie feels in this moment. It’s also important to note that she’s sitting opposite the shower where at the start of the film she had her meltdown. This is an important place for Carrie. Is she sitting here to remind herself how terrible everyone is? Is she sitting her to reminder herself of how they make her feel, so she knows better than to let that happen again? I’m not really sure.


Portia Doubleday is so good as Chris, the villain. She’s daddy’s little girl to the extreme, but she’s also a sociopath who has no empathy for others. This is a dangerous combination and we get to see the kind of mayhem such a person can wreak.


This montage is fantastic. I love well done montages in movies. The girls are all getting made up with hair and nails and makeup and fancy dresses and the guys are all dancing and playing James Bond. The big message here is that prom is about dressing up and playing a part. You’re playing at being a fancy adult. But this make-believe night is more than just playing at being an adult, it’s a reminder that even adults – unless they’re celebrities – don’t get nights like this often (if ever), so you better make the most of your play time, because you might never get to again. The way Peirce films the girls and boys separately and how she has them behave, also says a lot about the standards society puts on men versus women. Men just have to put on a suit to be fancy, women have to go through a whole routine before they’re deemed acceptable.


I love this whole sequence. First we get Carrie and her so cute pink dress (which her mother called red.) We also get one of many great scenes between Carrie (Cholë Grace Moretz) and her mother (Julianne Moore), which I will talk about in a bit. But we also get these little moments between Tommy and Carrie. He picks her up in a fancy limo, he assures her everything will be fine. He sits with her in the limo until she’s ready, even helping her with her corsage. When they get into the prom, he meets up with his best friend, whom he immediately introduces to Carrie. Tommy’s best friend’s date is from another school and doesn’t know Carrie and is so nice to her. I liked that moment because what it shows is that Carrie is a likable girl, she’s just been stuck with the same people for half her life and they all made up their minds about her long ago. This whole sequence shows the viewer how much all Carrie really needed was to feel safe, something she doesn’t feel at home or at school. It’s doesn’t necessarily have to be a man who makes her safe, it’s just the feeling that is important.


All the scenes between Carrie and her mother are so hard to watch. Her mother thinks she’s doing what’s best and embedded within the abuse, is real feelings of love. The same goes for Carrie. Every time she speaks back to her mother, you can see how conflicted she is and how hard it is for her to disrespect her mother. This story says a lot about how hard it is to be in an abusive relationship with someone you love – especially when the abuser is your parent. You know that what they are doing is wrong, but your love for them is so strong it makes it impossible to leave them. When Carrie locks her mother in the closet so she can go to prom, she says, “I’m sorry mommy, I’m sorry!” and you know she means it. Carrie’s such a great character because everything she does comes from her complex and messed up relationship with her mother. And Julianne Moore gives an astounding performance as a woman whose religious beliefs (that aren’t even founded in biblical texts – Carrie points out to her that half the things she says are the word of God aren’t even in the Bible), have caused her to become psychotic. It makes you wonder if perhaps she herself came from an abusive home (most likely, yes).


Obviously, the most remembered scene in this film will always be the pig’s blood prom queen moment. It’s such a tough moment to watch, since Carrie is so happy and most of the students aren’t in on the prank, so they’re confused, but going with it and then BOOM! It happens. Tommy is so pissed off and says something to that effect because he really was having a good time with Carrie and he would never be a part of something like this.


Then we get the moment that makes Carrie snap. She probably wouldn’t have killed everyone if it had just been the blood and the laughing kids. I think she was strong enough at this point to bear that, plus Tommy would have gotten her out of there. But then the bucket falls and in this version most clearly kills him. And then she loses it. He was so nice to her and the only thing that made her comfortable and they took him from her and they took something nice out of this world and that was just too much for her already fragile mind. This sequence is really gross and really violent; people get trampled! choked! electrocuted! crushed by bleachers!, etc. But what makes it even scarier, is that a lot of the violence that Carrie inflicts on her peers, are things that we’ve actually heard reported in the news, so you know they might actually happen!


The scene where Carrie finally kills Chris is super gross and I don’t want to spoil it because the effects are really cool. Afterwards, Carrie, her dress now actually red from all the blood, wanders in a daze. When she snaps out of it, her first thought is “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy!” and she sounds like she is six-years old. It’s fantastic because it’s so real and the line delivery is so real and you see just how conflicted and how arrested in her development as a person Carrie White really is.


But when she gets home, she doesn’t find the comfort she had hoped for. Her mother has also finally snapped and starts stabbing her, at which point Carrie has no choice but to retaliate. This scene is also really gruesome, but the moments between Carrie and her mother she lays dying are really poignant and bittersweet. The last moments between Carrie and Sue are also really interesting. At first Carrie blames everything on Sue, even so far as to blaming her killing her mother on Sue (the way she says “I killed my mother! I just want her back!” is filled with love and pain, it’s hard to watch). But when she realizes Sue is pregnant – with a girl! – she lets her live. This I find particularly interesting. Basically, for most of Carrie’s life, women have been the ones inflicting pain on her. But women – like the gym teacher and to some extent Sue – are the ones who have been the most empathetic with her (and also Tommy). Carrie may have killed all those people, but she still values life and she still believes in the wondrous beings mothers can be. Maybe she thinks Sue and her daughter deserve a chance to live a better life than she got with her mother? No matter what happens in life, there are few bonds as powerful as that of mother and daughter.

About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on October 10, 2014, in Female Filmmaker Friday and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I like Peirce and I’m glad she was chosen to try her hand at this, but honestly, it didn’t quite work for me. The original will forever and always be a classic. Good review.

  2. Great write-up! Haven’t seen this version of Carrie yet, but I’ll definitely watch it the first chance I get.

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