Starring: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving
Director: Brian De Palma
Running Time: 98 mins
Carrie is an American film about a teenage girl who, after being sheltered for years by her fiercely religious mother, and having been deeply humiliated by her classmates at school, finds herself on edge as the semester approaches prom night.
If there were ever a film to completely destroy your faith in humanity, then this is it. While Carrie moonlights as a supernatural horror in the same vein as many Stephen King stories, it’s first and foremost a very dark drama about bullying, solitude and religion, brought to life in incredibly striking style by director Brian De Palma, and growing in tension and truly desperate drama throughout, but making for a thoroughly enthralling watch.
There’s so much that impressed me about Carrie, but what really proves its quality is how well it takes the premise of the high school social scene – almost always a rather tedious and painfully trivial topic – and inject stunningly powerful drama, as well as bring genuine emotion and stakes to the table in a way that very few other films have ever done.
At its core, this is a film about the popular kids bullying a lonely girl, but the way in which King’s story is able to engross you to such a degree with his incredibly dark drama is absolutely mesmerising. Whether it be the stark portrayal of just how nasty people can be for absolutely no good reason, or the brilliant dramatic foreshadowing that creates almost unbearable levels of tension and anticipation in the film’s central act, you’d be hard pressed to take your eyes off Carrie, and that’s why it’s such an exhilarating watch.
But as well as taking a familiar premise and adding real depth and emotion, the film also features some fascinating thematic elements surrounding religion, and its relevance in the modern world, shown through the relationship between young Carrie herself and her fanatical Christian mother.
From the start, she lives a sheltered existence under a woman who is constantly professing her sins at the dinner table and sending her to a cupboard under the stairs to repent, and it proves both very unsettling and rather depressing, as we see her life not only in the home suffer heavily, but also see her with no chance to fit in well with the outside world, given the exceptionally strict regulations her mother places on her. Throughout, the film makes numerous allegories to classic religious works and questions the validity of an extremist belief that is more harmful to those who do believe than it is beneficial, making for some very thought-provoking drama, as well as another level of powerfully depressing storytelling that’s very uncomfortable to watch at times.
Of course, as well as the story, the film would be nothing without the very striking direction from Brian De Palma. Released three years after The Exorcist, Carrie clearly takes a lot of inspiration from the horror classic, yet turns the temperature up a level when it comes to combining an eerie and unsettling atmosphere with full-on psychological horror and gore.
I wouldn’t call Carrie a scary film in any way, largely because it is principally a drama. However, De Palma’s often psychotic style of directing, featuring piercing blood red colours juxtaposed with beautiful innocent whites, as well as a unique yet undoubtedly striking double-layered shot style used a couple of times to further create ambiguity and drama surrounding each of the characters’ intentions, is an integral part of the film’s thrills and drama.
So, what you have with Carrie is a very unsettling and deeply affecting tale of how vile humans can be to one another, combined with more in-your-face, psychotic horror style directing from Brian De Palma. It’s a unique and rather strange mix, but it’s one that makes for an incredibly memorable watch, and one that shook me to the core.
If there were one complaint I would have with this film, it would be that its transitions into supernatural horror aren’t all that swift. While the horror element of the story lingering in the background throughout is excellent for creating eeriness and tension, there are moments – particularly in the final act – where the story becomes more reliant on the horror side of things than the drama, something I was a little disappointed by, and felt rather jarred by at times as it takes a good bit of time to get used to.
Overall, though, Carrie is a fantastic film. Without a doubt, it’s an intense and often very depressing watch that features extremely dark drama and a powerfully unsettling atmosphere, and thanks to a stunning story from Stephen King and thrilling directing from Brian De Palma, the film is an exhilarating watch from start to finish, which is why I’m giving it an 8.2.