×

‘Carrie’ Cuts Too Close to Real-Life School Violence

Latest adaptation of Stephen King story is questionable in today's climate

Before the name Carrie became synonymous with Manolo Blahniks (in “Sex and the City”) and national security (in “Homeland”), there was the telekinetic high school girl who had a meltdown at her prom. When Stephen King published his 1974 novel “Carrie,” the idea that a teenager could commit a mass murder at school had all the makings of fictional horror, which is why the 1976 movie directed by Brian De Palma became a classic in the genre.

But that was a different time. It’s hard to revisit “Carrie” now without seeing parallels to recent grisly school killings. The idea that a quiet outcast can snap and kill all her classmates isn’t an unpleasant fantasy. It’s ripped straight from the headlines. Bullying is a grade school security concern, and the terror after Columbine, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook unraveled in real-time on cable TV.

Kimberly Peirce’s remake, which opens this weekend, touches on a number of hot button topics without responsibly exploring them. This update is much gorier than the original, and it feels like an after-school special from the creators of “Saw.”

Peirce anchors all the details of her film with the same realism that made her directorial debut “Boys Don’t Cry” an indie hit in 1999. But in “Carrie’s” case, the more real the story feels, the more disturbing it becomes. The mean girls who pick on our heroine post an online video of her in the gym shower; it brings to mind the tragic bullying stories that end in suicide. When Carrie is invited to prom, she clutches her date with the painful longing of a gay teenager who has never experienced public intimacy. Her mom (played by Julianne Moore) is a religious nut who cuts herself and keeps an arsenal of butcher knives.

De Palma’s “Carrie” was paced like a horror thriller, and the school seemed to exist in an alternate universe. Sissy Spacek was an adult when she portrayed the part, but she still seemed age-appropriate. The new “Carrie” casts 16-year-old Chloe Grace Moretz, who plays the character like she’s escaped from an asylum. I don’t mean that as a hyperbole — her Carrie comes across as mentally ill. The interpretation might hew closer to King’s text, but it also adds unintended echoes to Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook murderer. When Carrie sulks and quivers, unable to connect with anybody — even herself — it’s frightening but not in an entertaining way.

And then it’s time for prom. In the original film, the school dance was orchestrated with some restraint—De Palma wisely cut away from most of the carnage, using split screen and colored lighting to mask the gore. The audience knew that kids were suffering, but the terror came from not seeing all the grisliest details. The remake’s finale takes a different approach, which is not unexpected given the nuclear arms race for more violence in films.

It’s been almost a year since Hollywood actors came together to make a public-service announcement about gun violence after Sandy Hook. That hasn’t curbed the violence in movies like “Texas Chainsaw 3D,” “Spring Breakers” and “Machete Kills.” Many will argue, like Quentin Tarantino told NPR, that there’s no correlation between fictional violence and real violence. (And I should clarify there are no guns in “Carrie,” but that’s hardly the point.) Box office considerations aside, the bar for stories about kids dying violently should be higher now. I’m not sure what high school students will take away from the new “Carrie” if they haven’t seen the original.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Leads Crowded Weekend With $21 Million

    The Bean Bag Boys, the self-appointed nickname for the trio of best friends in Universal’s “Good Boys,” are conquering much more than sixth grade. They are also leading the domestic box office, exceeding expectations and collecting $21 million on opening weekend. “Good Boys,” which screened at 3,204 North American theaters, is a much-needed win for [...]

  • Amanda Awards

    ‘Out Stealing Horses’ Tops Norway’s 2019 Amanda Awards

    HAUGESUND, Norway —  Hans Petter Moland’s sweeping literary adaptation “Out Stealing Horses” put in a dominant showing at Norway’s Amanda Awards on Saturday night, placing first with a collected five awards, including best Norwegian film. Celebrating its 35th edition this year, the Norwegian industry’s top film prize helped kick off the Haugesund Film Festival and [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Richard Williams, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' Animator, Dies at 86

    Renowned animator Richard Williams, best known for his work on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” died Friday at his home in Bristol, England, Variety has confirmed. He was 86. Williams was a distinguished animator, director, producer, author and teacher whose work has garnered three Oscars and three BAFTA Awards. In addition to his groundbreaking work as [...]

  • Instinct

    Locarno Film Review: 'Instinct'

    Now that “Game of Thrones” has finally reached its conclusion, releasing its gifted international ensemble into the casting wilds, will Hollywood remember just what it has in Carice van Houten? It’s not that the statuesque Dutch thesp hasn’t been consistently employed since her startling 2006 breakout in Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book,” or even that she’s [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Eyes Best Original Comedy Opening of 2019

    Universal’s “Good Boys” is surpassing expectations as it heads toward an estimated $20.8 million opening weekend at the domestic box office following $8.3 million in Friday ticket sales. That’s well above earlier estimates which placed the film in the $12 million to $15 million range, marking the first R-rated comedy to open at No. 1 [...]

  • Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Wins at

    Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Triumphs at Locarno Film Festival

    The 72nd Locarno Film Festival drew to a close Saturday with Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa’s dark and detached film “Vitalina Varela” coming away with several awards together with superlatives from segments of the hardcore cinephile crowd, including jury president Catherine Breillat. In announcing the Golden Leopard prize for the film, as well as best actress [...]

  • Vitalina Varela

    Locarno Film Review: 'Vitalina Varela'

    Frequently beautiful compositions and the theatrical use of a fierce kind of artifice have long been the hallmarks of Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa, regarded by a small but influential group of aesthetes as one of the great filmmakers of our era. For those in tune with his vision, the director’s films offer an exciting lesson [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content