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Carrie (2002) Review



 

Stephen King’s Carrie originally began life as a supernatural thriller novel released in 1974. It tells the all-too-familiar story of the titular outcast who is constantly tormented by both her high school peers and her overly religious mother, but later discovers she has telekinesis and eventually uses it to exact revenge on her tormentors. This story was Stephen King’s first novel that began his historical career as a professional writer, with many of his novels receiving well-known and critically acclaimed film adaptations that would propel his stories into the mainstream of pop culture.

Carrie is by no means an exception to this, but what makes it special is that it would eventually receive not one but a total of three film adaptations! This blog post is actually part two of a series where I give my own thoughts on each film adaptation of Carrie, so if you haven’t read the previous post where I reviewed the 1976 film, then I strongly advise you to do so for better consistency. Here I’ll be reviewing and giving my thoughts on the second film adaptation of Carrie, released in 2002 and starring Angela Bettis in the titular role. An important note: this review assumes you’re already familiar with the general plot and thus SPOILERS are to be expected! As long as you’re okay with this, then we can begin without delay!



One of the first things you’ll immediately notice about this version is gone are the seventies aesthetics and feel of the original that are replaced with a much more modern 2000s look and atmosphere. The lighting and colors also seem to be darker as well, which may be intentional on the filmmakers’ part.

The biggest draw of this adaptation that makes it stand out is its willingness to be more faithful to the novel it is based on. The previous movie took a lot of liberties with the source material, due to both the director’s creative direction as well as the limited budget and technology of the time. By comparison, this one features many unique scenes and new content while retaining some of the story beats that the 1976 film popularized (e.g. Carrie and her gym classmates playing a sports game before the infamous shower scene, Carrie going into an unconscious trance during her mental meltdown at the prom, etc.). These exclusive elements help give the story a fresh new experience that allows this version to feel more like a different movie rather than a remake of the 1976 film, something it is not.

The best example of this lies in how the film frames its plot. The first adaptation is framed mostly around Carrie herself, beginning with the inciting incident in the school showers and ending with the brief aftermath of the ill-fated prom. This one, however, has its plot framed around a police investigation set after the prom, rendering Carrie and all preceding events in flashback instead. Characters who would play key roles in the story make appearances in these police interviews, allowing for an A and B plot setup with a lot of mystery and intrigue. It’s also interesting to see the detective (portrayed by David Keith) develop his own conclusions as the film progresses, such as being suspicious of Sue Snell playing a role in humiliating Carrie on prom night.



As mentioned above, there are many new scenes exclusive to this adaptation. Much of these are small moments that, while they don't progress the plot, add a lot more characterization to the cast and help flesh out their personalities more. Despite the fact these extra scenes were deliberately made to stretch the runtime (this film was originally released as a TV movie instead of in theaters) and thus may come off as padding, I actually enjoy them. One of the best ways a good film can be improved upon is by adding more details and expanding on what's already done right. It's for this reason that I very much appreciate extended editions and director's cuts of movies I like.

My personal favorite of these additional scenes is the flashback where preteen Carrie stumbles upon her sunbathing teenage neighbor. The conversation between these two that ensues from innocent little Carrie being exposed to breasts for the first time reveals interesting tidbits about her upbringing, giving us deeper insight into her mother's absurd perception of the world. To top it off, when Margaret herself appears and “disciplines” Carrie, the latter’s telekinesis manifests by raining down small meteorites around the neighborhood!



Another memorable scene is where Carrie is seen in her prayer closet secretly reading teen magazines she has stashed inside. I like how it subtly adds more layers to both Carrie and her home life. During this scene, we can see Carrie's natural interest in stuff like teen magazines, something we'd consider normal for a teenager like herself. However, given that she is sneakily indulging in this activity highlights how Margaret forbade her from even the most mundane things, thus providing us with some interesting implications of her daily life. Most of these exclusive scenes enrich us with deeper character details and I absolutely love them for it.

A notable aspect of this adaptation that I can’t help but notice in comparison to the first one is that it’s much more tame in terms of sexual content, most likely due to being a TV movie (not that I’m complaining). The girls locker room scene, for instance, is framed more modestly with the girls covered in towels, being half-dressed, and depicting them in the showers without exposing their privates. The 1976 film, on the other hand, had no qualms about showing us full-frontal female nudity. That version also had a semi-sexual scene between Chris and Billy, whereas in this movie they get a post-sex bedroom scene that only gives the implication.

The special effects are a big improvement over the previous film, given the updated technology of the 2000s (this movie even has CGI!). Carrie's telekinesis is portrayed more intensely with a level of fierceness to it, emphasized by the blaring sound effect that occasionally accompanies it. There are new moments that show off Carrie's powers in ways unlike before, such as raining stones and levitating numerous home furniture at once. The prom massacre scene is rendered more violently, with Carrie's unrestrained telekinesis wreaking havoc in a multitude of ways and outright killing many people on-screen.

The best display of Carrie’s powers, however, is when she’s rampaging through the town itself on her way home after prom.



This concept was originally planned to be included in the 1976 film, but got cut due to limited budget. It’s a shame because this is one of my favorite scenes in the entire movie. I like the idea of poor Carrie just going berserk on the whole town, and seeing this enacted via 2000s film technology is a delight for me. The excellent portrayal of Carrie's telekinesis in this version just goes to show that, while the previous film did the best with what they had available at the time, certain ideas and concepts are just executed better with updated technology. There’s a reason why modern superhero films are now more popular than ever, after all.

The casting of this movie is pretty good. I actually recognized more familiar faces here this time around! All of the characters are represented well and I enjoyed the actors’ performances here a lot more than I expected. In truth, I daresay that I much prefer the casting of this adaptation over the 1976 film. Of course, there are several standouts that deserve a more detailed mention.



Although Angela Bettis doesn't have the same charm as Sissy Spacek, the former does offer a unique take on the role that is fresh and just as interesting to watch. Bettis’s Carrie is more grounded in realism, which is compounded by both her appearance and the actress not being overly attractive. Carrie’s social awkwardness is also amped up more in this version as well. These characteristics help to sell the outcast vibe and allows Bettis to feel more believable. Granted, her performance may not be as fun and endearing as Sissy Spacek, but I enjoyed it nevertheless.



Patricia Clarkson's portrayal of Margaret takes a similar approach to Bettis's Carrie in that the former is more grounded in realism this time around. Instead of being energetic with exaggerated mannerisms and often bombastic dialogue, Clarkson's Margaret is more quiet and reserved yet very intimidating at the same time. Her mere presence fills every one of her scenes with this threatening tension that just sucks the fun and life out of it, giving way to an often anxious atmosphere. Strangely, I find this relatable as anyone who has lived with a very unhappy and authoritative family member can attest to. While Clarkson’s Margaret may not be as wild and entertaining to watch as her predecessor, her performance holds up and certainly nails the abuser aspect in a more realistic light.



One of my favorite performances in the entire movie came from none other than actress Katharine Isabelle. Isabelle’s portrayal of Tina Blake, the loyal best friend to main antagonist and bully Chris Hargensen, is downright fun to watch and steals the show whenever she's on-screen. The combination of giddy mannerisms with a spiteful (almost bratty) attitude and Isabelle's acting talent results in a character whom I found myself loving to hate. She was never a dull moment; I enjoyed her performance as Chris's number two much more than I did P.J. Soles' take in the previous movie.

Speaking of "never a dull moment," Meghan Black (not pictured here) deserves an honorable mention. Her portrayal of Norma Watson as a hyperactive, energetic girl with contagious positivity brought smiles and laughter to my face for the majority of her screen-time.



Lastly, Jesse Cadotte as Billy Nolan was a vast improvement over John Travolta's portrayal in the previous film. Needless to say, I much prefer the characterization of Billy as a bad boy rather than a doofus who is easily manipulated by his girlfriend. Although his screen-time is not long, I love how this adaptation gives Billy more agency, allowing him to be a more assertive character who takes command and doesn't take crap from anyone. Cadotte's performance was many steps up in every way, and I loved it.

There’s one last thing that must be mentioned before I conclude this review. It concerns an noteworthy aspect of this adaptation that differs from any other version. It is impossible for me to talk about this movie without acknowledging this. What I’m referring to, my dear readers, is none other than the film’s ending.

For those of you familiar with the plot of Carrie, you’ll know that the titular protagonist dies in the story’s climax, usually by suicide. Initially, it would appear Carrie met a similar fate in this film, heavily implied by the police investigation that frames its plot structure. During the final act, we eventually come to a scene where Carrie lies underwater in her bathtub following a brief struggle with Margaret, having met her untimely end by drowning as she lies completely still. Poor Carrie White has died once again at the end of the movie…

except she doesn’t! It is ultimately revealed that Carrie was rescued from drowning in her own bathtub by Sue Snell of all people! As it turns out, Sue would help Carrie leave town unbeknownst to the authorities, allowing the telekinetic teen to begin a new life under the radar with only Sue knowing of her survival.

Given that this film is made to be closer to its source material and Carrie’s death is indeed canon, it seems pretty jarring that a more faithful adaptation would end in this manner. However, it makes perfect sense when you know that this ending was actually meant to kick-start a TV spin-off series centering around Carrie helping other troubled teens with psychic powers like herself. As history would have it, this project didn’t materialize, instead leaving us with an unresolved open ending in an otherwise faithful version of Stephen King’s original story.

Personally, I don’t like this ending to the plot. Given the nature of the story itself and its tragic climax, I find the death of Carrie to be thematically appropriate, and to have it end with her alive just doesn’t suit it in my opinion. Despite this, though, the ending ultimately doesn’t detract from the movie. Strange as it may sound, I am perfectly content with simply ignoring the last ten or twenty minutes of the film and pretending it doesn’t exist. These are my thoughts regarding the conclusion, end of discussion…

So, with everything being said (and there was a LOT to be said here!), what is my final evaluation of this movie? Well, interestingly enough, I wasn't fond of this adaptation when I originally viewed it. At the time, I saw it as being inferior to the 1976 film in every way and thought it wasn't worth watching. Upon viewing it again for the first time in years with a fresh perspective and new sensibilities, has my opinion changed at all? The answer to that is…


absolutely! I myself was very surprised to discover how much I liked this movie on a second viewing. This adaptation does almost everything right: the casting and their performances, the artistic direction, the additional content, the special effects, the more developed characters, etc. In my eyes, it is a near perfect film, one I can always enjoy with full satisfaction!

For those who haven’t seen any of the Carries, I highly recommend this version as your first viewing. For those who have watched the other adaptations without viewing this one, I recommend watching this film with an open mind and judging it by its own merit rather than comparing it to the other versions as I previously did (I think you’ll enjoy it best that way). If you walk away from this film disliking it in favor of the other adaptations, I completely understand. The good news is, with three vastly different versions in existence, there’s a Carrie for everyone…



 

My dear readers, that concludes this lengthy review of mine. If you read this from start to finish, I hope you enjoyed reading it and I very much appreciate your time to have a curious look at my opinions. I know it’s been months since my last blog post, but don’t believe for a second that I’ve given up the ghost as I have plenty of content to share with you! Considering that we’ve just begun a new year, this timely publication feels appropriate for the occasion!

I don’t fancy myself as the “new year resolution” type of guy, but I have entered the new year with a newfound goal for this blog, which is to publish more often (especially in comparison to the blog’s opening year). I’ll do my best to publish at least once a month and keep THE DAILY BRIAN on a more consistent flow, so please stay tuned!

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My dear readers, I wish you peace and blessings! Until next time on THE DAILY BRIAN!

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