31 Days of Hell: Carrie

They're all gonna laugh at you....if you read our review of Carrie.

"I hope Carrie digs my
white man fro!"
High school does not hold fond memories for many people. Not everyone ends up being popular or part of the mythical “in crowd” and as such, they end up feeling ostracized and unwanted. As society has seen over the years, disaffected or unhappy youth can be dangerous and unstable. In 1999, the shooting at Columbine High School brought that exact notion to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness.  Brian De Palma’s film Carrie depicts what can happen when a young girl is pressed to the very limit of her understanding and tolerance.

Carrie, at its heart, is a coming-of-age story about a girl named Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) on the cusp of her womanhood and how she deals with all of the changes happening both within herself and in her environment. She is introverted and awkward which attracts the derision and ire of her peers and they tease her relentlessly. Her home life is chaotic as her mother (Piper Laurie) is a religious zealot who imposes her Bible-backed draconian rule over every aspect of Carrie’s life. There are many factors at play within Carrie’s life and all of them build up to a stressful situation. Every one of these things combine to make Carrie begin to lash out with a strange and mysterious power that she cannot hope to control.

"You didn't like what mommy
cooked for dinner. Now....
you...must DIE!!!!"
Sissy Spacek is utterly perfect for the role of Carrie, as she possesses a natural beauty and quiet vulnerability that is endearing. Her posture is always slumped and she spends most of the film literally cowering away from social interaction with both her fellow students and her teachers. However, in the quiet moments she has to herself, it is revealed that she has a gorgeous mind that is aching to be loved and accepted. She is not unlike a flower trying to bloom in a desolate area—lovely but always in danger of being stomped on. Anyone who has ever felt like they didn’t belong will surely identify with her performance. 

On the other side of the coin, Piper Laurie is terrifying as Margaret, Carrie’s insane mother. Margaret is obsessed with the Bible and especially the concept of “original sin” as perpetrated by Eve in the Garden of Eden. All sex is evil according to her, and Carrie’s budding sexuality terrifies her down to her core. She is a flurry of crazy, with her wide open eyes and wild disheveled hair—a storm of insanity that Carrie cannot protect herself against. Religion can be menacing when taken too literally and De Palma uses some of the Christian imagery in this movie to invoke unease and fear which ends up being quite effective.

"To blood or not to blood.
That is the question."
The tone of this film might be disconcerting to some viewers as the first half is campy and very 1970’s. De Palma is known for his use of color and interesting camera tricks (such as split screen) and he keeps the mood light-hearted for the most part. As the film progresses, there starts to be subversive off-notes readily apparent and in the latter half everything changes completely. In the last third all hell breaks loose and everyone faces the music—whether they deserve it or not. This nihilistic approach to karma is interesting and gives the climax more impact.

This movie is an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Carrie and was also the first of his books to be turned into a feature film. It follows the novel closely and is more faithful to the feel of his work—much more so than some of the later films that followed. King’s books can sometimes be hard to capture completely as they often rely on a character’s inner motivation and internal dialogue to move the plot forward. De Palma did an excellent job painting a picture of painful adolescence and the metamorphosis that comes with it. Everything in the film can be taken at face value but the symbolism is there if one cares to examine it further. The most effective horror films appeal to the heart, emotions, and shared experiences.  Anyone who is pushed far enough has a little Carrie White inside of them waiting to come out.

-Michelle Kisner