Carrie is a funny and frightening film. Brian De Palma, the director, turns Stephen King’s novel, itself a female-dominated Rage (King, 1974), into a semi-satiric teen opera without any of the boring parts you might find in an opera. The whole thing is jet-propelled.
And he sees (and correctly identifies) the universal high school experience as a battleground—a hormonal hell. In Carrie, high school is a cruel and bloody caste system where the adults are barely in charge (and “grown-up” in name only, since their worst, wolfish aspects are easily unmasked), and hens rule the roost. The hyper-reality of the picture underscores the nature of the experience shown. It never feels obvious, or shallow: De Palma gives the movie a wink and a nod—like he was in attendance on 42nd St., a member of the raincoat crowd, high on sugar and the desire to be surprised. He also brings a lot of heart to bear.
Carrie is bullied. She happens to be telekinetic. And the world she inhabits is cracked. Tilted. Subject to it, but never its master until she snaps, she is incredibly sympathetic. Her end, which is her triumph, is both tragic and viscerally exciting. In some ways, the story is about a girl who rejects the part other people have beaten into her—that of the pitiful pushover. She, and the movie, would break the mold that high school (and movie high school) conventions impose. De Palma’s craft (e.g., the slowing or speeding up of a shot, the split-screen, the split diopter) makes us look anew at the hellish cartoon that high school can be. Also, the characters who oppose the heroine play in pitch to the world of the film. They are all worthy of indictment—of being mocked and destroyed. And the director plays us like a piano.
Carrie is De Palma’s best film.