8 March 2011

Fin's Review: Carrie

The term masterpiece is completely overused these days, but when discussing Carrie it is truly deserved - this film is a masterpiece. This is Brian De Palma's highwater mark and is in my opinion a significantly better film than his more famous creation Scarface. The simple story of a high school outcast and her telekinetic powers is one of the select few horror films that can be truly called a classic, and one which escapes the confines of the horror genre to stand alongside any other 'serious' film out there. In other words, it is a film you must see.

The acting performances in this film are fantastic (Sissy Spacek was nominated for a best actress Oscar for her performance as the fragile troubled Carrie). Spacek is excellent in her role and plays it to perfection, making us sympathise completely with the loner Carrie right from the disturbing opening scene. When Carrie experiences her first period under the unforgiving glare of her bitchy classmates we are immediately in Carrie's corner, while never pitying her.

However, despite Spacek's stunning performance, she is perhaps outdone by Piper Laurie as Carrie's mother - possibky the scariest religious fanatic ever seen on the screen. Like much of Stephen King's work, religious fanaticism plays a major part, but Piper Laurie's skill is in making us sympathetic towards Carrie's mother even as we are repelled by her (unlike, say, Marcia Gay Harden in that other superb Stephen King adaption, The Mist, who you hate from beginning until end). That said, Piper Laurie is seriously creepy and the only truly scary aspect of this film. Carrie's internal turmoil is completely caused by her mother's psychotic behaviour. When Carrie has her first period, rather than comforting her, her mother blames her for bringing 'the curse of blood' upon herself through sin and you would be hard pressed to find a scarier crucifix than the one that hangs in Carrie's punishment cupboard. It is a genuinely uplifting moment when Carrie finally stands up to her mother.

As good as the acting is, it is De Palma who makes this film with his sublime directing. Very few directors can craft scenes like De Palma and create scenes of true beauty, humor and pathos. He manages to make Carrie one of the most emotionally involving and moving horror films ever made.

De Palma does not waste a single shot and in doing so creates some spellbinding imagery. The opening scene mentioned earlier is a thing of beauty: it opens with a sensual image of Carrie enjoying a warm shower and ends with the blind terror she experiences when her first period begins. Being a product of her mother, who has a psychotic fear of female sexuality, Carrie has no idea what is happening to her. De Palma's transition from unsettling eroticism to horror is masterly.

There are too many excellent scenes in Carrie to mention in a short review. However, the prom scene demands attention as the high point of this excellent film. This scene is as close to perfection as is possible; witnessing the first flush of Carrie's independence and her realisation that she could be happy is truly moving. The lighting, music and directing add up to create a dream-like ambiance that reflects what Carrie herself is feeling. The dance scene between Tommy Ross and Carrie when the camera circles the pair, slowly speeding up, is genius.

Tommy Ross is one of the few truly decent characters in the film and provides Carrie with her one brief moment of joy. The fact that we know that this happiness is ultimately doomed makes the scene even more poignant. The prom scene is also a tour de force in building and sustaining tension. We know the pig's blood is there but Carrie doesn't and it is almost impossible not to shout at the screen for Carrie to look up. Even the split screen used by De Palma in the final payoff, which could easily appear as a gimmick, somehow works.

Carrie is up there with four or five other films at the pinnacle of the horror genre. Such films truly show that horror films can be just as interesting, artistic and important as any other genre of film and can take their place beside some of the best films ever made. If you're skeptical of the merits of horror, Carrie is a great place to start.

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