Sunday, October 20, 2013

Stranger Nightmare VIII: Carrie (and Randy)

On Spirit Day, the color purple is worn to signify support for LGBT victims of bullying. These days, the official date is set to October 17th. However, the first observance, organized by Brittany McMillan in response to a number of bullying-related suicides back in 2010, actually took place on October 20th.

So, to show this blogger's support, today's (spoiler-free!) nightmare is also linked to bullying -- albeit of a straight main character. Her name is Carrie White; you might have heard of her.

But before we get to that, in the true spirit of Spirit Day I want to make quick mention of a movie you might not have heard of: Red Head Randy. An under-hyped indie flick about a high school student whose homophobic classmates' bullying pushes him beyond his limits, Red Head Randy may not be the first anti-bullying horror movie, but it might be the first to feature a homosexual main character (feel free to correct me on that). Promotion for the film is a bit of a mess -- though the release is only a little over a week away, there are no real trailers to speak of, and what little insight one can glean from the cast spotlights is nowhere near enough to get a real feel for what the movie will be like once it does come out. But, at the very least, the creators' hearts seem to be in the right place. The film is touted as an anti-bullying feature, and a series of events, including a release party on the 31st, a Bowling Against Bullying tournament (date TBA), and a New Year's Party (again, details TBA), have been scheduled as part of the Red Head Randy Stand up to Bullying Tour.

Now, on to the main attraction...

For any poor, uncultured fool who hasn't seen it yet and never read the book by Stephen King or watched the original 1976 film adaptation (or at least the 2002 version, or even the -- shudder -- musical version), and has somehow managed to miss all one million and three advertisements for it, Carrie is the story of a painfully shy, awkward high school girl who is abused by her fanatically religious mother and tormented by her unsympathetic classmates. It is the story of what happens -- or at least, what could happen, if you believe in telekinesis -- when bullying goes too far. Desperate times, after all, call for desperate measures.

Now, on the bright side, if you really haven't read or seen any of the other versions you're probably going to enjoy the new one more than I did. I don't know about the 2002 or musical versions, but I do know that once you've seen Sissy Spacek play the lead, there's no way not to compare every other Carrie to hers. And sadly, despite my initial overwhelming joy at seeing ChloĆ« Grace Moretz cast in the role (not to mention Julianne Moore as her momma), even "Hit Girl" couldn't quite measure up. 

That's not to say the new Carrie isn't good. It has its moments, and despite my preferences I'd definitely say it's worth a watch. Judging by the (very loud) gasps I heard rippling through the audience on more than one occasion, I'd say it even has a few good jumps in it (though if, like me, you're a bit more jaded, you might find the audience's reactions more amusing than the actual "scares"). The writing is good, supposedly closer to the book than other adaptations, and the acting is solid. Julianne Moore is probably the best, craziest momma White ever, and that's including Piper Laurie in the original. In fact, if you see it for no other reason, see it for her -- the amount of attention to detail in terms of the mother's character development this time around is spine-tingling perfection.

As for Carrie herself, while she does follow the basic arc from the original story -- shy, quiet misfit to freakishly powerful avenging heroine -- Moretz's Carrie seems stronger than the others from the get-go, and she begins to lash out much earlier and with more force than Spacek's timid, fragile-seeming girl-child. This probably sounds like a better idea than it actually turned out to be; while for the most part it's preferable to have a strong, sensible heroine (particularly in a horror movie), what I found so hard-hitting about Spacek's performance was how utterly terrified and vulnerable her Carrie was throughout the film. Moretz, on the other hand, seems to have a very strong personality, and it can't help but show a little even through her best attempts at defenselessness. Her strength was what I loved about her in Kick-Ass and Dark Shadows, but here it takes a little away from some of Carrie's weakest moments. However, on the flip side, she is a very likeable Carrie, and watching the inevitable, terrible conclusion to her almost-fairytale ending still hurts, if not in quite as poignant a way. And heck if she isn't bloody believable once she does go into full vengeance mode.

As I said, however, if you don't have a reference point prior to the film, it's probably much more enjoyable, and for all I know I might have loved Moretz's Carrie a lot more if I'd been able to forget Spacek even for a minute. But original-to-remake comparisons aside, there's one other problem I had with the film (not counting a very stupid Sue moment wherein she forgets how useful cell phones are -- the fact that she didn't even attempt to use hers during a crucial moment really, really bugged me). As is so often the case, it has to do with the special effects.

As far as looking good, I have to admit that generally they did a pretty great job. Unfortunately, the SFX team did exactly what I feared and hoped they wouldn't do and fell into what I like to call the Lucas trap. Yep, I named it after George Lucas, because if he'd paid a little more attention to the writing (and, you know, directing) instead of getting wrapped up in all the CGI, the Star Wars prequels might have actually stood a chance of living up to our dreams. But that's another rant for another time. Anyway, the effect isn't nearly as bad in Carrie, but it is there.

While the effects don't take over the movie, when they are used the emphasis occasionally comes on a little too strong -- to me, it's like the difference between an actually creepy experience and an amusement park ride. The latter might be a more visually impressive because it's showier, but it's also safer and much less scary than a real, dangerous situation. Similarly, if directors want their special effects to add to the creep factor of their movies, they really need to stop going, "Look at this! Aren't these effects amazing?!" and just let the moment happen instead of trying to show off. I suppose they think it looks cool, and maybe to some people it does, but unless the movie is supposed to be slightly campy it's usually just an annoying distraction. In Carrie, this only happens once or twice, but it's once or twice too many, and it's a bit disappointing to find it in a movie that had the potential to do so much better.

However, if you're looking for a decent Halloween movie this October -- a soda-and-popcorn-flavored horrorshow evening in the presence of good company -- Carrie's probably your best bet this year. It's especially fun to take your jump-scare-prone friends along with you; just remember to keep a firm grip on the popcorn bag.

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