Sunday, April 19, 2015

CARRIE (2002) Blu-ray Review

Carrie (2002) d. David Carson (USA)

This made-for-TV effort manages to surprise and occasionally surpass viewer expectations, especially for Stephen King fans who wanted to see more of the slim source material's events onscreen. With an expanded time frame to work in, screenwriter Bryan Fuller revives the author’s flashback framing, with David Keith’s doughnut-loving detective questioning survivors and suspected perpetrators of the now-infamous prom night inferno. Through their memories and testimony, a portrait is drawn of shy social outcast Carrie White (Angela Bettis), her sexual (and telekinetic) awakening, and the havoc wrought in its wake.

On the commentary track newly recorded for Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray release of the telefilm (packed with 1999’s official sequel, The Rage: Carrie 2), director Carson reveals that while understandably reluctant to follow in the large-looming shadow of Brian De Palma’s acknowledged 1976 classic, the reason he ultimately felt a remake had validity lay in the fact that his teenage daughter found the earlier film “not scary,” and that its famous ending jump-scare now seemed familiar and even telegraphed. Armed with that knowledge and Fuller’s faithful script (which included the infamous “fiery stones from heaven” sequence – more on that in a second), Carson and his collaborators crafted a worthy adaptation that manages to update and expand the story without simply aping what came before.

Another King novel, The Dead Zone, had been successfully adapted into a USA Network television series the same year – one can only assume this was the reason for NBC requesting that Fuller amend the ending to allow the telekinetic teen to survive. Altering the last 15 minutes to turn it into a potential pilot for a weekly television series (presumably akin to the 1970s The Incredible Hulk, with our misunderstood monster Carrie, a victim of her own anger-provoked fury, wandering from town to town, seeking refuge) has the unfortunate effect of muting the tragedy the film has been building toward for over two hours. It’s not a deal breaker, but purists might be better served to switch off the telly after Carrie and Margaret White (Patricia Clarkson) have their final mano-a-mano in the family bathroom.

Fuller also had the idea of making Carrie more sympathetic by making her unconscious during her telekinetic murderous acts (also a la the Hulk’s David Banner), so she is less a murderess than an unwitting victim of her psychotic alter ego’s whims. This decision fortuitously keeps her from coming off like a teenage X-Men mutant superhero, hurling her various nemeses around, a trap into which the 2013 remake happily tumbled headlong.

While the antithesis of the novel’s description as overweight and pimply-faced, Bettis is breathtaking in the title role, conveying both the outsider’s point of view and the barely tethered rage that lurks beneath the insecure surface. Even more impressive, she manages to bring different colors to her second social misfit character of 2002 (the other being her breakout role in Lucky McKee’s May).

She is well-matched by Clarkson, who brings a quiet, stolid humanity to the monster that is Margaret White, a well-chosen counterpoint to Piper Laurie’s operatic, Oscar-nominated turn. Watching the actresses square off in their two-hander scenes is as rewarding as any of the CG-enhanced whizbang effects.

As Carrie’s primary antagonists, Emilie de Raven (TV's Heroes, Lost, 2006's The Hills Have Eyes) and Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps, American Mary) are suitably snotty as Chris Hargensen and Tina Blake, and soap star Rena Sofer (Bold and the Beautiful, General Hospital) is perfect as no-nonsense gym teacher Miss Desjarden, the lone kindly, attentive adult in Carrie’s life.

As the seemingly clueless administrator, Laurie Murdoch surprises by showing real steel when the chips are down, and Tobias Mehler brings a great deal of sensitivity and savvy to the role of Tommy Ross, dancing a fine line between well-intentioned white liar and sincere good guy. For his part, screen veteran Keith (who had already lent his square-jawed features to King's Firestarter nearly two decades earlier) provides a welcome sense of gravitas as the no-nonsense detective, even if he’s not actually given much to do.

Originally aired on November 4, 2002 in a 3-hour time slot, this version clocks in at a healthy 132 minutes minus commercials (the pre-break edits are still easily identifiable). Fuller (TV’s Hannibal, Star Trek: Voyager) does fine work integrating many of King’s story elements while also updating it for a modern audience (his protagonist discovering the internet, for example). Sometimes, he’s almost too faithful, as with the unexplained pre-titles snippet of Margaret giving birth, but while puzzling for the uninitiated, it’s rewarding for fans of the book.

Surprisingly, the FCC’s restrictions don’t hinder the storytelling, as the intimations of sex and violence (standing in for any explicit instances thereof) still manage to serve the theatre of the mind. There’s not much in the way of dead wood, plot-wise, and considering the presumably reduced budget, the technical elements are, on the whole, solid and proficient.

That said, viewers will still need to take their generosity pills. The CG effects, as in the aforementioned fiery meteor scenes and especially in Carrie’s all-in post-prom-gone-ablaze walk home are pretty dodgy. Kandyse McClure’s decision to play conflicted good girl Sue Snell as a glib smartass is a woefully misguided one, since she’s supposed to be the other main sympathetic character, and the awful Dawson’s Creek-esque pop song over the end credits could have hit the bricks as well.

The lone extra on Shout! Factory’s hi-def presentation has Carson sharing the mike with DP Victor Goss for a reserved, mutual admiration commentary track, although they occasionally get caught up in watching the film instead of actually, oh, commenting on it. Still, both have plenty of insightful observations, from casting to overall aesthetics, with Goss providing the enthusiasm while Carson keeps his Brit upper lip stiff. It’s a serviceable, if unremarkable track; nothing more or less.

Carrie (2002) is available now from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE:

--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine


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