Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Remake Comparison Project Addendum - Sin Never Dies

Cody and Priscilla look at a third version of Carrie, the 2002 TV movie.

CARRIE (2002)

Priscilla and I wanted to cover the theatrically released adaptations of Stephen King's debut novel Carrie in this month's Remake Comparison Project article, but there have in fact been three adaptations of the material, and knowing that there was this largely forgotten TV movie out in the world, I wouldn't have felt satisfied if we had only covered two of the three. We had to write about this one as well.

Looking back at it now, I wish we'd have decided to write about The Rage: Carrie 2 instead.

The Carrie TV movie originally aired on the network NBC on Monday, November 4th, 2002. Written by Bryan Fuller, who would go on to create such short-lived television shows as Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me, and Pushing Daisies, and who is currently showrunner on NBC's Thomas Harris adaptation Hannibal, and directed by TV veteran David Carson (probably best known for directing the feature Star Trek: Generations), Carrie 2002 is a rather faithful adaptation of King's material (none of the adaptations have strayed very far) that attempts to do its own version of the novel's epistolary style by intercutting the main narrative with "flash forwards" to characters being interviewed about Carrie White and the prom incident in a police station by Detective John Mulchaey.

Even though I haven't read the book, I'm pretty sure the "flash forwards" worked much better there. In the movie it really serves no purpose other than making it excruciating long and dull.

The police station interviews provide an interesting structure that sets the TV movie apart from the theatrical films, but I feel they primarily only accomplish dragging the movie out to its overly long 132 minute running time. The insights given in the interviews are nothing that couldn't have come through in scenes that move the story forward rather than in these extra scenes where characters talk about the story.

After establishing the police station bit, Carrie '02 introduces Ewen High School student Carrie White not in a scene where she messes up a volleyball game, as in the other adaptations, but in a classroom where she's allowed to sit out on a lesson on evolution due to her religious beliefs. An exception being made for Carrie stirs up mocking comments from her classmates, in particular from popular girl Chris Hargensen.

People stare at the meek and frumpy Carrie, they laugh at her and make fun of her. In class, in the library, during gym, where Carrie puts in a very poor showing during a baseball game and loses it for her team.

The title role is filled by Angela Bettis (The Toolbox Murders remake), who was cast based on her performance in Lucky McKee's film May. Bettis is a talented actress and certainly fits the awkward and oddball aspects of Carrie, but she doesn't really look like a high schooler.

Nothing is right about casting Bettis as Carrie. I'm not saying that the character should be pretty, but she shouldn't be downright creepy and scary, either. In my mind, Carrie should look like a regular girl, with something off about her, not completely off. And the Carrie we get here is just totally bizarre, it's hard to relate or feel bad for her because you can't get engaged like you do with the other two Carries. She looks awful, she walks funny, it's way too out there, it's way too forced, and it simply doesn't work.

After gym comes shower time, and we all know what happens when Carrie hits the shower. The late bloomer has her first period at seventeen, an event which the girl has been completely ignorant of up until this point. Woozy at the sight of the blood running from her body, Carrie collapses to the floor as the other girls notice the small river of blood running toward the drain...

I think this is what they call a heavy flow.

Her peers gather around Carrie and chant "Period!" until gym teacher Miss Desjarden breaks up the scene. Carrie believes she's bleeding to death, and when the teacher slaps her in an attempt to get her to calm down, a light bulb in the ceiling explodes.

The shower scene, which is powerful in the original and interesting in the 2013 version, is completely boring here. Carrie doen't even ask for help, she just stays on the floor crying. There's no impact, it's very weak.

The general idea is that Carrie's entry into womanhood has also unleashed a powerful telekinetic ability from within her. Further demonstrations of this ability are shown as the day continues: When the principal repeatedly gets her name wrong, she causes his desk to lurch several inches across the floor. When a young boy on a bicycle calls her "Creepy Carrie!", she uses her mental power to smash him into a tree.

In the other versions, Carrie merely knocked the "Creepy/Crazy Carrie" kid over. Here, it's totally over-the-top and ridiculous, as the kid and his bike get tossed through the air, across a lawn, in slow motion.

Before she leaves school to walk home, Carrie stops by her locker... to find that someone has tampered with it and scrawled PLUG IT UP across the door. When she opens the door, causing a flood of tampons come cascading out as the teenagers packing the hall look on and laugh. Carrie doesn't lash out in this moment, however. She just takes it in silence.

It seems she does that too often.

Also, there have been signs of her telekinesis even before she entered womanhood.

This TV movie contains a scene from the book that didn't make it into either of the other versions. A scene where a young Carrie chats with her teenage neighbor, who is sunbathing in her yard. Carrie is fascinated by the older girl's breasts and regrets that she'll never have any of her own, because her mother has told her that growing breasts (she calls them "dirty pillows") is the result of sin.

Little Carrie says she wishes she had breasts, but at the same time she says she doesn't, because that means she's bad. A lot of confusion going on in her mind at such a young age.

Carrie's religious fanatic mother Margaret calls her away from her conversation with the neighbor -

As Margaret does so, she calls the teenager "whore girl", to which the girl's mother hilariously, calmly replies, "Now, Margaret, I asked you not to call my daughter that."

It almost seems like the girl's mother agrees with Margaret. You'd think she'd react a little differently to having someone call her daughter a "whore".

- and takes her into their home, from which the sounds of young Carrie being punished both physically and mentally soon start emanating. As the girl's emotions raise, windows start opening and closing on their own, a table is tossed through a window, and then small meteors start streaking from the sky, battering the house and surrounding property.

I've never liked the idea of this scene, for a couple reasons. For one thing, I like the idea better that the telekinesis is only something that Carrie is able to bring forth once she has officially entered womanhood. For another... I don't understand these stones falling from the sky at all. Where are they coming from? Can Carrie's mind powers really reach out into space to pull these meteors down through the atmosphere? It's a bit much.

It makes no sense. It's another example of a useless scene that only helps make the movie way too long.

Arriving home from school, Carrie must once again deal with her mother's insanity. She is punished for getting her period, told it's the result of sin, beaten, tossed into her "prayer closet" to spend hours asking for forgiveness.

One thing each version of Carrie has in common is the fact that they got a great actress to play Margaret White. Piper Laurie in '76, Julianne Moore in '13, and Patricia Clarkson here. Laurie's excellent performance had verged on over-the-top, but Clarkson takes the opposite approach and underplays the character for the most part. Even when Margaret is slapping her daughter, her tone of voice remains calm and soothing.

I like Patricia Clarkson, but the way she chose to play the character - or was directed to - just feels out of place. By far my least favorite out of the three Margarets.

Carrie's bullies receive a week of detention for what they did, a detention that is carried out by Miss Desjarden, who is disgusted by what they did. She gives them a harsh talking to and puts them through a rigorous exercise routine.

The prom is coming up in less than a week, the girls are all preparing for it, even discussing what sort of bikini waxes they should get -

One type of waxing style being called "the Brazil" really confuses them.

The girls in this movie seem more malicious and more stupid than the girls in the other two Carrie movies. They don't seem to know where Brazil is and they act more shallow than what you'd expect even from teenage girls. 

- and the punishment for not taking part in Desjarden's detention is three days of suspension from school and refusal of their prom tickets. Most of the girls don't want to risk that and go through the exercise routine. Spoiled rich girl Chris Hargensen, she feels she's too good for this punishment and makes a scene of walking out. She tries to get her lawyer father to talk the principal into allowing her to go to the prom, but the principal won't have it.

Because of the way he interacts with Mr. Hargensen, the principal in this version is my favorite of the three. It's great how he tosses references to court cases back and forth with the lawyer and promises to counter-sue for the girls Chris has bullied if Hargensen decides to sue the school for mistreating his daughter.

The principal's action really is one of the good things about Carrie '02. I love how he puts Chris down by talking about her grades and how awful she is to a lot of other students. If only he had understood that her name was actually Carrie and not Cassie the first time around, he'd have been my favorite out of the three principals.

While her tormentors are paying the price for their actions, Carrie researches telekinesis, learning what's going on with her, practicing and honing her abilities.

Interestingly, Carrie '02's research is even more internet-based than Carrie '13's was.

One day, Carrie's research is interrupted by the school's star athlete, Tommy Ross, who she has a crush on - so much so that she even doodles about him in her notebooks. Tommy is dating Sue Snell, one of the girls who chanted "Period!" in the shower, but Sue feels so guilty about how Carrie was treated, about how Carrie has been treated her whole life, that she has decided to skip prom and have Tommy take Carrie in her place. Carrie fears that this a trick at first, but Tommy convinces her to accept his offer to take her to the prom.

Carrie accepts too fast, it feels fake and too easy. Plus, Tommy and Sue don't seem like a couple in this version. In the original and in the '13 version, they're sweet on each other, and here their interactions are very empty.

Once Carrie chooses to go to the prom, nothing can deter her. Chris's attempt to make her feel like she's just another of Sue's improvement projects is ignored.

The scene where Chris acts like she's trying to warn Carrie, and the scene where Sue helps Carrie with makeup feel really forced. More examples of time wasted with things that didn't need to be there.

Carrie stands up to her mother's objections and uses her telekinesis to make sure she's listened to. Her mother calls her a witch, but she won't be put down any longer.

Bettis's performance finally starts to calm down a bit around this point. For a long stretch of the movie after the shower scene, she plays nearly every moment very intensely. Teary-eyed, jittery, it often feels like she's about to rip out of her own skin. It's uncomfortable to watch.

It's either too much or too little. Scenes like the shower and the locker called for more emotion and desperation and they lacked it, while pretty much every other scene is way too heavily filled with unnecessary intensity.

Prom night arrives and Carrie attends with Tommy in a dress she made herself. Tommy acts like a perfect gentleman and does his best to give Carrie the greatest night of her life, while other students attending the prom are quite impressed by the makeover Carrie has given herself. Desjarden bonds with Carrie with a stories about her own prom and how much she hated school herself, with assurance that high school shenanigans and statuses don't matter anymore once you're out in the real world.

Again, like in the original, people seem to instantly like her. And the dress is pretty, though I wish they'd have tried harder to make her look better. Carrie looks beautiful going to prom in the other two movies, and here that just doesn't happen.

Things are going well... but trouble is brewing. If nothing else, the police station scenes have made it clear that something terrible is going to happen.

Chris and her boyfriend Billy Nolan have come up with a plan to humiliate Carrie in front of the entire prom. A plan involving pig's blood.

The '76 version of Billy Nolan was just a dimwit who was all caught up in Chris. In '13, he was a delinquent douchebag. In this one, the guy is a total sociopath. When he tells someone he'll kill them, it's fully believable that he's capable of doing just that, with no remorse.

And what I find funny is that he's probably one of the only actors who looks young. He should look older and more like a jerk. So, that character doesn't work, either.

Tommy and Carrie win a rigged vote for Prom King and Queen. They take the stage, get crowned, Carrie is given a bouquet of flowers. The school song begins to play, and Carrie daydreams of having an intimate dance with Tommy.

That scene is nice. It's what should've happened, especially in the two other movies, because I can't bring myself to care or feel as bad for this Carrie as I do the other two. Not that I wanted those awful things to happen to her, but in the other two movies, especially in the original, I get more involved, she feels more like a real, troubled girl who just wants to fit in. In the '02 version, she just seems so weird all the time.

But the King and Queen don't get to have their dance. Above the stage, Chris pulls a rope attached to a huge bucket filled with pig's blood.

Carrie is doused in blood. When Chris lets go of the rope, the bucket falls from the rafters and hits Tommy in the head. He falls down on the bloody stage. Dead? Unconscious? People in the crowd begin to laugh and mock Carrie. She seems to be in shock or in a trance, but tension is building in her body... And then she unleashes.

A ripple of energy spreads across the decorated gymnasium, and then bad things begin to happen. Lights fall from the ceiling. One of the bullies is smashed by a basketball backboard. Tables fly around the room. People are electrocuted. Everyone panics. Fire breaks out.

The movie's TV roots really show through in this sequence, because the violence is more subdued. A bunch of people are clearly killed by the telekinetic rampage, but there's also just a lot of random stumbling around and falling over tables.

The whole sequence fails in comparison to the one in the original. While it was too out there in the '13 version, it was too bland here. Nothing is very memorable.

With Ewen High gymnasium destroyed and the school itself burning, the bloodsoaked Carrie walks home, wreaking havoc throughout the town as she goes. As she walks down the street in the town of Chamberlain, Billy and Chris attempt to run her down in Billy's truck... That doesn't turn out well for them.

The way Carrie tosses the truck through the air and into a tree is very much like what she did to the "Creepy Carrie" kid. I guess that bit of silliness was foreshadowing.

Still seemingly in a trance, Carrie arrives home and takes a bath. She finally snaps out of it then, with no memory of what has happened. She doesn't know why she's covered in blood.

Margaret enters the bathroom and has Carrie pray with her... before shoving her head beneath the water. As Carrie drowns, she visualizes her mother's heart and gives her a fatal heart attack.

A much more low-key demise for Margaret than in the other movies, and it's basically how she was killed in the book.

The more dramatic approach works better for motion pictures, and fits in better with the tone of the movie... at least it does with the other two.

Alerted to the trouble in Chamberlain by the sound of sirens, Sue Snell leaves her house and goes over to Carrie's, where she finds Carrie drowned in the bathtub. She pulls Carrie out of the tub, gives her CPR... and successfully revives her, an action that causes Sue's mind to flood with the memories Carrie doesn't have of the prom.

The film ends with Carrie presumed dead, but alive and well. She visits her own grave -

While she's there, there's a jump scare involving Margaret.

- and then Sue, knowing what happened and that the prom tragedy was not truly Carrie's fault, helps the mentally haunted girl escape town. They hit the road for Florida, and the end credits roll.

This is a very different ending than seen in the '76 and '13 versions, and different from the novel's ending as well. In every other version of the story, Carrie dies. The decision was made to keep her alive in this one, because not only was this a TV movie adaptation of the novel, it was also thought of as a potential lead-in to an on-going Carrie television series that would follow her life in the aftermath of what happened in Chamberlain. Presumably, she'd be wandering the United States, getting into scrapes that would force her to use her telekinesis again for some reason in each episode. I'm imagining it as something along the lines of the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno Incredible Hulk TV series. Telekinesis is Carrie's Hulk.

I like that Carrie got to live, and I would've wanted to watch TV series showing what happened after that. But at the same time, it seems like she'd still have a very sad life. Probably better than before, not being controlled by her crazy, religious fanatic mother anymore, but still... a life on the run, all alone. I don't know.

I don't think Carrie '02 is bad, because Fuller stuck to the source material for the most part, and it's a good story. It's hard to make something bad out of King's novel. Fuller's writing tries a little too hard from time to time, like when a character tries to explain the high school social ladder to the police or when Sue talks about how religion should be more like Dogs Playing Poker than The Last Supper, but it works when it's faithful.

The movie is too long. I kept thinking "it's almost over" and then it wasn't... then I thought "oh, now it's almost over", and still... no. It tries to tell too much, too many details, things that don't belong in the movie. There are so many scenes that didn't need to be there, and all of those just made the movie hard to sit through. Plus, it looks too cheap even for a TV movie, and the effects are pretty lame. The score is okay when it's a sad scene, but pretty much every other part is just annoying.

The cast is good, although some choices about Bettis's portrayal of Carrie are questionable. Clarkson is solid, Laurie Murdoch is good as the principal, Rena Sofer has some good, some intense, moments as Desjarden. It's fun that there are so many familiar genre faces in the supporting cast; Kandyse McClure of Children of the Corn '09 and Mother's Day (2010) as Sue Snell, Tobias Mehler (Disturbing Behavior, Wishmaster 3) as Tommy Ross, Emilie de Ravin of Lost as Chris, Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps, Freddy vs. Jason) as Chris's pal Tina, Jodelle Ferland (Silent Hill) as young Carrie, Chelan Simmons from Final Destination 3. This was very obviously made in Canada. 

David Keith, who plays Mulchaey, is always a welcome addition, too.

It is a solid cast, and still, I wasn't impressed by anyone's performance. Didn't like Bettis as Carrie or Clarkson as Margaret. Desjarden is definitely my least favorite gym teacher of the three movies, she's not really that into helping Carrie and she seems more interested in telling people stories about herself whenever someone's willing to listen. Plus, according to her, the worst thing that can happen to those girls is being fat when they're older. That's just ridiculous, and a very wrong message to send to an already disturbed teenage girl. I don't like Sue in this movie, seems like she's always giving people sass. Isabelle's character Tina is meaner and bitchier than Chris, and that's weird. And Tommy looks too old to be in high school, and he fails miserably at being sweet and charismatic like the character is in the other two movies. Also the annoying Norma, with the Julia Roberts Valentino 2001 Oscars dress, is just way too silly.

The interactions are so superficial in this movie. No couple acts/feels like a couple, there's no chemistry between them. Carrie and her mom suffer from that, too. And that can be felt throughout the movie.

The problem is in the execution. Carson made some stylistic choices that just made me shake my head, and the movie looks awfully cheap. You go into something like Carrie expecting better production value than this.

Feels like someone picked up a camera and filmed the whole thing that way, not minding it much.

132 minutes is also way too long for this subject matter. They bulked it up to make it more of an event, but what that really did was mess up the pacing and cause the movie to feel dull. There are plenty of things that could have trimmed out of there, lots of stuff that could have been put on the screen in a better way, and moments that never should have been shot in the first place.

Carrie '02 isn't all that bad, but it's also not all that good. It's just a curiosity, another take on a classic story to check out if you're interested.

Out of the almost 40 movies we watched during Cody's stay here in Brazil, this was by far my least favorite. I'm not saying it's the worst movie I've ever seen, but there's just too much that doesn't work. It wasn't a fun experience and I don't see myself watching it very often. I kept hoping it'd be over a lot during my viewing, and that means I won't put myself through that again for a while.

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