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Movie preview: An updated ‘Carrie’ for the digital age
"Carrie" is going viral.
In the new take on the supernatural coming-of-age story out Friday, beleaguered high-school student Carrie White's torment doesn't merely occur within the gym showers or onstage at the prom. It's also online, one of a few modern updates dropped into filmmaker Kimberly Peirce's reimagining of the landmark 1974 novel by Stephen King.
There are references to the "Today" show and "Dancing With the Stars," tunes from Passion Pit and Krewella playing at the prom and Carrie (Chloe Grace Moretz) searching about her burgeoning telekinetic powers online. Outside the movie, "Carrie" is also being marketed with a hidden-camera stunt that's racked up nearly 40 million views on YouTube.
The most profound use of technology in this contemporary "Carrie" occurs while she's antagonized.
"It's how you raise your story to the level of myth," said Peirce, who previously directed "Boys Don't Cry" and "Stop-Loss." "Too much specificity is a bore. I thought the characters needed to have cellphones, but they should probably only use them a few times. Otherwise, we're beating the audience over the head with it. That's why it was carefully chosen."
The shy outcast isn't only ridiculed by fellow students when she experiences her first menstruation — and doesn't know what's happening — after gym class. The moment is also captured on a smartphone and later uploaded to the Internet by mean girl Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday). It's played again on screens during their prom after bullies dump pig's blood on the teen.
This isn't just Carrie 4.0, though.
Moretz — who, at 16, is the same age as the titular character — believes the broadcast of the digital video amplifies the internal rage of this version of the introverted young woman, who's been sheltered throughout her life by her religiously fanatical mother, Margaret (Julianne Moore). It's a new reading of the tale that's spawned three movies and a Broadway musical.
"When that blood is dropped on her, I do think she would've walked away if that video had not been put up on the screen," said Moretz. "I do think she would have walked out of that gym, gone home, cried and been fine — figured her life and moved back into her shell. Without the video, I don't think the telekinesis would've taken over her body."
When it came to filming that iconic scene, which has been endlessly imitated and parodied in the decades since director Brian De Palma's "Carrie" debuted in 1976, Moretz said she was showered with phony blood just twice. The bigger challenge for the young "Kick-Ass" and "Hugo" actress was unleashing a totally new interpretation of the classic cinematic moment.
"I had to forget about all that," said Moretz. "As an actor, I just needed to live in my character and not think about Sissy Spacek's performance or how this is an iconic scene or anything like that. Carrie is Carrie. She doesn't know blood is going to be dropped on her. She just won prom queen and thinks her life is going to turn around for the better now."
With the aid of computer-generated effects, the blood-soaked mayhem Carrie wreaks is certainly more expansive than in De Palma's original "Carrie" film, as well as the 1999 sequel and a 2002 made-for-TV movie. Peirce was tasked with balancing expectations of both "Carrie" fans and modern moviegoers — without turning Carrie into one of the X-Men or Transformers.
"I faced it with humility," said Peirce. "On some level, of course, I was scared I wouldn't live up to it, but then I just thought, 'I love Carrie. I'm going to ground this moment. I'm going to make this as specific and real as possible.' I do think I ended up making it different. It's the same reason why people are able to bring a new reality to Shakespeare and other works."
Moore also purposely veered in a new direction with her nuanced take on Margaret White, wildly portrayed in the original film by Piper Laurie, who like Spacek earned an Oscar nomination for her performance. The veteran "Short Cuts" and "The Hours" actress plays a quieter, self-mutilating rendition of Carrie's unhinged and overprotective mother.
The filmmakers focused more on the novel than the original film, with screenwriter and "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa incorporating additional elements from King's book. While the issue of bullying has become more relevant in recent years and is paramount to the story, the cast and crew didn't set out to make A Very Special "Carrie."
"It's a difficult issue to address," said Moore. "There's a huge spectrum when it comes to bullying. There are a lot of things that come under that heading like teasing that aren't necessarily bullying. It's not something you can be pithy about it. I kept going back to Stephen King's impetus for writing the book, and that's how damaging isolation can be to people."