“They’re gonna laugh at you. They’re all gonna laugh at you.”
The idea of remaking/reimagining/refurbishing a horror classic may have been laughable at one point, but now it’s just business as usual. Then again, I happen to think this is an especially good time to revisit 1976’s Carrie. With all the attention bullying has gotten in the media these last few years, the supernatural story of a high school outsider pushed to her violent breaking point seems particularly timely. I just wish the new movie had more going for it beyond decent timing and a pair of impressive leading ladies.
The story, based on Stephen King’s first novel, remains essentially unchanged. Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a shy high schooler who doesn’t fit in with the cool kids at her school, including prom queen frontrunner Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) and resident mean girl Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday). Carrie also has a demented religious fanatic for a mother (Julianne Moore) who occasionally locks her daughter in the “prayer closet” under the stairs. So when the young girl gets her first period after gym class, Carrie believes she’s bleeding to death.
Carrie’s classmates humiliate her, and the fallout from the girls’ cruel taunts end up messing with Sue and Chris’s prom plans. Meanwhile, Carrie learns that she has telekinetic powers, which manifest when she’s under duress. She also winds up being asked to the senior prom by Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort), Sue’s popular jock of a boyfriend. I feel silly issuing a “spoiler alert” for a story that’s almost 40 years old…but let’s just say the spiked punch winds up being the least of everyone’s worries at the prom.
I’m not really interested in doing a compare/contrast piece between this film and Brian De Palma’s outrageous original. I’ll just say the biggest reason De Palma’s film has endured as a disturbing horror tale for so long is because he successfully constructed Carrie’s life as a nightmare. (Or a fever dream, actually.) His characteristic over-the-top-style put you in the disturbed headspace of Carrie and her mom. The new Carrie is effective, but more workmanlike in its approach to telling this familiar story.
Director Kimberly Peirce, working from a script by Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, doesn’t mess with the story too much. (Maybe a certain someone who died during Carrie’s original, pig blood-fueled prom rampage survives in this version.) There are obvious updates to the story — like Carrie’s shower room humiliation being filmed on a smartphone and posted online — but Peirce’s contributions as a director are far more subtle than De Palma’s flashy split screens and luxuriously long takes. For example, I liked the decision of casting the statuesque Wilde as the kinder Sue because actresses who look like her usually end up playing the mean girl. The iconic prom scene benefits from improved special effects, but is hurt by the fact that these violent pop culture images aren’t nearly as shocking as they were in the 1970s.
I happen to think Moretz is one of the most promising young actresses working today, and it was refreshing to see (gasp!) an actual teenager playing a high school student. (Another bonus: the actress’s youth further set Moretz apart from her more womanly co-stars Doubleday and Wilde.) Moretz — who previously starred in Let Me In, the underappreciated horror remake of the terrific Let the Right One In — looks like a movie star. Unfortunately, that’s a bit of a problem since 2013 Carrie White is supposed to be pretty plain. The actress doesn’t have the otherwordly, lovely gawkiness Spacek had in the original, but Moretz still manages to be convincing as an intensely introverted girl. (And, not surprisingly, the breakout star from the Kick-Ass movies looks like a natural when Carrie goes on her rampage.)
The film actually opens with Moore’s disturbed Margaret White giving birth to Carrie, which quickly establishes the story’s prevailing blood motif. Margaret gets a self-mutilating update and Moore — clearly relishing the chance to cut loose — plays her as a quieter, yet no-less-disturbed monster. I also enjoyed Judy Greer’s feisty work as sympathetic gym teacher Miss Desjardin and Elgort’s likable lunkhead performance as Tommy.
This October has brought a distressing lack of horror offerings in what’s supposed to be the spookiest time of the year. Insidious: Chapter 2 opened more than a month ago, and the newest Paranormal Activity got pushed off its customary October perch. (Heck, even Carrie was originally supposed to open this past March.) The scariest thing I’ve seen this month might be the box office performance of The Fifth Estate. Although Moretz and Moore elevate the material — and you literally have no other choice if you want to see a new(ish) scary movie on the big screen before Halloween — this new Carrie is a solid, ultimately inessential horror entry.