cw: parental abuse, bullying, religious trauma, animal abuse, mentions of blood.
Carrie is a slow, tormentuous descent into madness bundled into a 97-minute visual mirage. It's an excellent subversion of every notion one may have of the ‘coming-of-age’ film, almost forcing you to grapple with your naivety and childish expectations of hope and survival. No one survives the high school horrors of Carrie. Rather, what we see is a society cannibalising itself and a documentation of every step it took in its disastrous demise.
The film cuts right to the chase with an introduction to Carrie’s fragile mental state. We see a slow-motion pan of a locker room, the ethereal glowing bodies of young girls who laugh and slap each other with towels like something out of a ‘70s soft porno. The film lulls us into relaxed voyeurship, coaxing us into hazy safety. Carrie hides in the back of the showers, the only one yet to bathe and hidden by hot curtains of steam. She touches herself and relaxes in her private corner when suddenly, she sees blood begin to trickle down her legs. Horrified, she screams out for help, convinced she's dying. The other girls laugh and hysterically pelt her with tampons and pads as she screams and crawls into a corner. Their teacher, Miss Collins, breaks up the scene but not before Carrie bursts a light bulb in deliria. Her first experience of womanhood is terror both for herself and the people around her.
This terror incites a telekinetic ability within Carrie, one the film ties with her emotions as an extension of her power, an observable impact to her surroundings and visualisation of the damage done to her by her environment. It's a humanising experience for the audience to watch her abilities be triggered by her fragility, framing them as a self-defence mechanism. But her extremely religious mother dubs her powers as the manifestation of sin—insisting Carrie has been sinful when she gets the ‘curse’ of her period. “You should've told me, mama,” she cries, but her mother ignores every word. She tells Carrie, “first comes the blood, then comes the sin,” while Carrie weeps to be held. Her mother then drags her across the floor, hits her and locks her in a wardrobe where Carrie is forced to pray to a crooked statue of a crucified Jesus. Her mother doesn't talk to her like a mother, not even like a person, but instead as a prison guard forced to deal with the thing she hates the most everyday. For her mother, Carrie must be punished for allowing herself to fall victim to the sin that is womanhood. She prays for hours and then timidly thanks her mother before breaking down in the safety of her room.
Afterwards, Carrie’s emotional state becomes more fragile and her powers continue to grow. Carrie takes a week off after her bathroom meltdown. The girls who ridiculed her get a week’s detention and two of the girls, Chris and Sue, take it personally. Sue feels guilty and pressures her boyfriend Tommy into taking Carrie to the prom in her place. Chris on the other hand, infuriated by the threat of having her prom attendance taken from her, sets out to ruin Carrie White’s life. She enlists the help of her own boyfriend and they visit a farm where they bash the head of a pig in gruesome surround sound. Sue screams to “do it, do it, do it” as they drain its blood and save it for their ‘plan’. The scene is horrific and directly contrasts Sue, who excitedly pesters Tommy for updates and genuinely looks forward to Carrie White’s prom debut. The prom looms over all their heads, a coming of age ritual that we, the audience, have learned to dread. The build-up promises a startling violence that feels so alien to the rest of the film, so unwarranted for Carrie White.
Carrie is finally worn down into accepting Tommy’s invitation but her mother refuses to let her attend. Carrie cries, “I want to be a whole person. I want to be normal!” Her Mother still insists it's Satan working through Carrie. She attributes sin to Eve, “And Eve was weak and loosed the raven on the world. And the raven was called sin… and the Lord visited Eve with the curse, and the curse was the curse of blood!” Her mother fears the power of women and believes that embracing womanhood, as Carrie is doing, is akin to making a pact with Satan. “I can see your dirty pillows,” she tells Carrie in disgust. “Breasts mama, they're called breasts. And everyone has them”. For the audience, it's cathartic to see Carrie throw back her screaming mother with her powers. She is attempting to take back her body and mind. Her mother merely prays, but whether it’s for Carrie’s salvation or demise is unclear.
Carrie arrives at the dance with Tommy, flooring everyone with her presence and beauty. “It's like being on Mars, you’ll never forget it”. Tommy convinces her to dance and for a moment everything is beautiful—they spin, laugh, dance and kiss as the lights around them soften and the music sways. Then comes the announcement for prom king and queen. Chris’s plan goes off without a hitch—she rigs the votes and Carrie gets announced. She has a fairytale moment as she walks to the stage, illuminated by the spotlight as the world around her quiets down and pays attention solely to her. She flashes a beautiful, grateful smile and we feel her joy, her relief as things go okay. She's safe.
Then a bucket of pig’s blood falls. Soaked in blood she screams, horrified. The bucket falls further and hits Tommy, knocking him unconscious. Everyone laughs at her, shrieking in delight at her humiliation. Chris emerges from her hiding place and gleefully taunts her.
Carrie loses all control.
Paying homage to the opening scene wherein Carrie’s horrified, blood soaked form causes a crescendo of her power, she goes catatonic. First comes the blood, then comes the sin. She locks the doors. Sets the fire hoses loose at full power, propelling bodies across the distance of the room. People are being flung across the room or trampled in attempts at escape. Electricity flows through the water, electrocuting more. Her every glance and gaze brings annihilation. Eventually, she sets the whole building on fire. First comes the blood, then comes the sin. Like a ringing prophecy, her blood soaked form exits the scene as her coming-of-age crescendos into its final horrifying moments. 73 people die.
She comes home to her mother who makes her wash up without a word. “Mama hold me... Please, hold me.” She does and then after a few moments, referencing her lustful taste of sin with Carrie’s father, “I should have killed myself when he put it in me,” her mother stabs her. In a panic, Carrie runs away and with her gaze she throws knives to hold her mother back. Each one of them ties her to the wall in a sickening, crooked crucifixion.
Carrie runs to the wardrobe and hides, crying as the house sinks into the ground in flames.
In its linearity the film is akin to a commentary on how people are pushed to their breaking point. Carrie is a study in monster hood—we see her unbecoming in startling clarity, know every step it took to get there and though we can foreshadow the destruction yet to unfold we never feel inclined to stop her. Carrie is a protagonist whose journey earns our sympathy, whose trials and tribulations become our own. We root for her, cheer for her even when she uses them to silence her mother or knock a statue off of her ignorant principal’s desk.
Carrie is a horrified product of cruelty. We see her punished for every moment of self-love and indulgence to the point she wants to pray herself away. At home, Carrie is fervently attacked and abused by her mother; hated both for her sexuality and her existence as a product of her mother’s sexuality. At the beginning of the film, we see Carrie, unable to inherit her mother’s fear, instead learn to be timid and apologetic, fearful and abiding. Not a monster. Not active and deserving of the violence that surrounds her. Carrie’s character design at first is so minimalist, unborn; pale face, hair, eyelashes like a canvas for which we hold a naive hope that things could go another way. The film contributes to this narrative that Carrie can truly escape her situation. After all, what did you expect? Are we all ‘Carrie White’, oblivious to the real cruelty in the world?
Instead, Carrie White does become a monster. But the origin of her monsterhood is not some vast “unknown” as the source material seems to imply, nor is it Satan; rather it is a product of retaliation to the contempt society holds for women—especially those who embrace their womanhood. There are no innocents; there are only assailants and survivors, but no one is unscathed. Every participant willing or not is a cog in the machine, spreading their influence through religion, social cruelty, or ignorance. The ‘big bad’ is the witch hunt of women even by other women.