Directed by Kimberly Peirce. Starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer, Ansel Elgort, Gabriella Wilde, Portia Doubleday, Cynthia Preston, Alex Russell, William MacDonald, Travis Hedland. Written by Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, from the novel by Stephen King.
Note: beware some general spoilers in the below review. I’m assuming most readers have read the Stephen King novel and/or seen the classic 1976 film.
There’s one sequence any Carrie adaptation/remake needs to nail: the violent prom night climax, when that intense dread that the rest of the story has slowly been building finally reaches its breaking point. Brian De Palma unforgettably handled this sequence (in split-screen) in the 1976 movie, resulting in one of the most iconic moments in horror film history.
When this 2013 version of Carrie – which really earns that remake label by lifting so much straight from the original film – turns into a loud action movie during the climax, you know something has gone horribly wrong.
That’s too bad, because the first two-thirds of this movie work pretty well. Director Kimberly Peirce – no stranger to teenage outcast themes, she previously made Boys Don’t Cry – has a good feel for this story and setting, and uses our knowledge of this material to build that palpable sense of dread: we search for some small glimmer of hope, some indication that things might not turn out so bad, but we know exactly where this is going…
And that’s a place that’s more relevant now than it ever was. As stories of high school bullying, teenage suicide, and school shootings fill the news, there’s a fascinating dynamic to watching bullied Carrie White explode in a fiery rage, indiscriminately murdering her tormentors along with everyone else in her path. It may not be justice, or even revenge-movie fantasy, but it’s something we can understand, and almost sympathize with.
At least, in the 1976 film. In this remake, everything is simplified, characters painted as black-and-white good or evil, and Carrie ultimately does become another revenge movie: the prom massacre is boiled down to action movie window dressing as Carrie specifically targets those who have wronged her. It’s all flash and fury as the thematic substance get muddled and trampled upon.
As the titular lead, Chloë Grace Moretz does an admirable job: a stronger, more vocal characterization than Sissy Spacek in the original film, we truly care about this character, and sense the presence of a young girl who, under different circumstances, could turn out OK. But she, too, suffers at the hands of the misguided climax; reigning in her performance, she loses all the crazed terror that Spacek so memorably provided.
Carrie’s tormentors don’t really bring much color to their roles, though the black-and-white characterizations don’t really help. Gabriella Wilde’s Sue Snell is turned into a conventional horror movie heroine, while Ansel Elgort’s Tommy Ross is just about the nicest guy you’d ever meet. Chris (Portia Doubleday) and Billy (Alex Russell), meanwhile, are comic-book evil incarnate.
As Carrie’s religious fanatic mother, Julianne Moore never goes as over the top as Piper Laurie in the original, though the film would have likely benefitted from it (the “dirty pillows” and “they’re all going to laugh at you” lines, which specifically recall Laurie’s work, get the best reactions here). Judy Greer, as the sympathetic gym teacher Ms. Desjarden, stands out among the supporting cast.
While Carrie isn’t a shot-by-shot remake of the 1976 film a la Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, it comes awfully close: the number of major changes can be counted on a single hand. Most notable is the opening scene, a bizarre (and pointless) birth sequence that can’t hold a candle to the locker room opening of the original; that scene, which unfolds moments later, is similarly strong here.
And then there’s the finale. Regarded by many as a cheap jump scare, the final scene in the 1976 version is nonetheless a classic of the genre, and went on to influence a number of copycats. As if the fumbled climax wasn’t enough, this version ends with a WTF whimper before an inappropriate rock song plays out over the closing credits. By this point, any good from the first half of the film has been long forgotten, as we leave with a sour taste in our mouths.
Also opening this week: