2013’s Carrie opens with the title character’s birth. It’s an effective scene, conspicuously absent umbilical cord aside, that immediately makes two things clear. First, Carrie’s mother, Margaret White (Julianne Moore), is a dangerous fundamentalist highly displeased with the “cancer” that just spilled from between her legs. And second, director Kimberly Pierce’s reboot/remake/re-imagining of Stephen King’s novel is aiming to be more than just a rehash of Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation.
Unfortunately it’s only the wacky religious nut that lands intact, as other than a new opening and ending, some updated dialogue, and an ill-fitting actress in the lead role, this is quite clearly the same old Carrie.
“I can see your dirty pillows!”
Life hasn’t gotten any easier for now teenage Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz). Her and her mother still live in the same house, but while the world outside grew more progressive, liberal, and messy, time stood still inside their home’s walls. She’s punished with forced prayer time behind a locked closet door, mother and daughter wear long, form-hiding clothing, and the sum of all knowledge is to be found within the pages of the bible.
Their home’s foundation begins to shake though when Carrie’s first period strikes in the girl’s locker room at school. Terrified and bewildered, she screams for help while her classmates laugh, throw tampons, and chant “Plug it up!” One of them (Portia Doubleday) also records it on her iPhone and uploads the video to YouTube. Carrie’s entry into womanhood triggers both the events that follow and her own telekinetic powers which, when mixed with pig blood, culminate in a small town tragedy and a prom night where even the “good” boys and girls end up fucked.
De Palma’s film is nearly forty years old, and it’s resulted in some fairly iconic imagery being ingrained into popular culture. Like Jack Nicholson’s face grinning through an axe-splintered door or Ursula Andress exiting the ocean in a white bikini, we know certain elements of the story regardless of whether or not we’ve seen the movie.
Pierce’s remake recognizes the original film’s most popular images and proceeds to include all but one of them here. Little to no effort is made to craft a distinct or relevant tale, and in a world awash in news reports about bullying and resulting shootings and suicides this seems to be a missed opportunity. Why else remake a movie for a second time? (That’s right, Carrie was already remade in 2002!) The YouTube video angle hints at some cyber-bullying subtext, but it disappears from the film almost immediately.
The film doesn’t approach Gus Van Sant/Psycho-levels of remake stupidity, but its slavish retention of scenes and slurs (“Carrie White eats shit!”) serves little purpose. It restores one microscopic and irrelevant subplot from King’s novel, but most of the other added material falls flat.
So if the film does and goes exactly what and where we expect it to, does it at least do it well? For the most part.
Pierce displays a sharp eye for effective and appealing visuals, and some mild CGI-work aside the film is never less than attractive. An early underwater scene and a later one watching as a blood-drenched Carrie approaches a shattered closet door are two standouts, while an overhead tracking shot of the town in disarray offers a tantalizing glimpse of the level of destruction detailed in King’s book.
Performance-wise the film is a lopsided bag. Moore is fantastic as the fanatical mother who went off the deep end long ago and has been torturing herself and her daughter ever since. She avoids Piper Laurie’s hysterical turn while still managing to invoke fear, conviction, and sheer insanity through self-mutilation and a maniacal focus. The supporting cast is fine (Judy Greer!), but none of them manage anything memorable.
Moretz doesn’t come off quite as well though, at least not at first. Carrie’s introduction to the audience is meant to drive home just how awkward, sheltered, and uncool this girl is, but Moretz appears incapable of making that convincing. She creeps melodramatically through the locker room, she stares at the ground through frazzled hair, and she “acts” like she’s shy. It’s unclear if this is an insult or a compliment, but Moretz can’t pull off the ugly duckling routine. That said, once Carrie begins to explore and control her powers Moretz’ performance falls in line as the two dovetail into a young girl who feels aware and in control for the very first time.
Carrie isn’t a bad movie, but it’s frustratingly irrelevant. Had it gone to the lengths of King’s novel or explored the contemporary issue of bullying there would at least be a purpose and point, but instead it recycles roughly ninety percent of what De Palma already delivered. Sure it’s spruced up with better effects, a hotter Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde, sorry Amy Irving), and a funnier Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort, sorry The Greatest American Hero), but so what. Just as Carrie and her mom seem out of touch with the modern world the film seems obsolete in a world with King’s book and three other movies. (That’s right, Carrie got a sequel in 1999!)
The Upside: Julianne Moore brings fanaticism and mental illness to life; competent throughout; some humorous moments
The Downside: Chloe Moretz’ attempts at portraying an awkward and shy teen feel forced; adds nothing to the conversation; new ending falls flat
On the Side: Shailene Woodley was reportedly offered the title role but turned it down, while Emily Browning, Lily Collins, and others auditioned before being passed over for Chloe Moretz.