When I learned that Kimberly Peirce was planning to make a new film version of Stephen King’s debut novel, Carrie, I thought to myself, “Well, she could use the work, I suppose, but what’s the point?” We already have the perfectly fine 1976 film directed by Brian De Palma. (Actually, it was more than fine; Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie both earned Oscar nominations for their performances, a rarity in the horror genre.) Then there were two basic remakes in the ’90s: The Rage: Carrie 2 (which tried to lazily connect its copycat plot to the original story) and a TV movie starring Patricia Clarkson. What new take could Peirce bring to her version, which from the trailers and TV spots seems to be an uninspired modernization of a very familiar story?
Well, maybe it was all a reason to spend a lot of money on viral marketing. (Let’s be honest, the reason why the movie industry does anything is always “money”; we just hope that sometimes there is some semblance of artistic expression also involved). First there was the not-auspicious phone number at the end of the Carrie trailer (want to spend money on the exact opposite of an adult sex-chat line only to have Julianne Moore yell a religious rant at you? Go right ahead!), and now the viral YouTube game is getting in on the act with a Candid Camera-style promotional video.
Filmed in West Village staple ‘sNice Cafe, the bit employs the usual kind of hidden camera conceit: someone does something rude, generally by accident, and then another person reacts in a way that is completely over-the-top and distracting. Usually this involves some tame yelling or, if you’re a Betty White’s Off Their Rockers fan, a nude octogenarian bumping into some coffee tables. Of course, the people who made this video decided to go balls-out with the terror aspect. How will those poor coffee shop patrons react?
Gawker, with a surprising lack of sarcasm, describes the video as “prankvertising,” the first of its kind in America — probably thanks to those of us here who have much shorter fuses and unsophisticated senses of humor and like to regularly sue others who even remotely embarrass us in public. And while other outlets have praised the promo for its ability to go viral, I can only roll my eyes that the notion of “viral” has become so calculated and manufactured that a commercial posted online (and, one presumes, sent out in email-blast form to a few thousand bloggers) can be seen as a viral success. Wasn’t the great thing about the viral Internet supposed to be that these “sensations” come out of nowhere and speak to the personality and sensibility of the larger World Wide Web, rather than proving that marketing dollars do work through fairly tame YouTube metrics?
In addition to the groan-inducing fact that this new Carrie is just another example of Hollywood not so much running out of ideas as knowing which ideas will be particularly lucrative to recycle, it seems also to be an experiment in cross-platform marketing opportunities (while writing this, I also received a press release about the soundtrack, which has songs by buzzy bands like Vampire Weekend, Cults, and HAIM). Hey, it’s great to see that Kimberly Peirce is now getting the chance to make another movie (she followed up her stellar debut, Boys Don’t Cry, with the underwhelming Stop-Loss). But perhaps her association with this new version of Carrie does not speak especially highly of the independent cinema scene of the late ’90s and the opportunities it created for its more impressive filmmakers.