2013 - 100 minutes
Directed by: Kimberly Peirce
Written by: Lawrence D. Cohen, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (based on the novel by Stephen King)
Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Gabriella Wilde, Judy Greer, Portia Doubleday, Ansel Elgort, Alex Russell
I love Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation of Steven King’s first published novel. It’s obvious that Kimberly Peirce, director of the 2013 version of “Carrie,” does too. However, that’s not to say her film is another boring and pointless retread in a long, long line of boring and pointless retreads. Quite the contrary, actually. The refreshed “Carrie” is exceptionally well-made and acted and though it’s not essential, it is definitely worthwhile.
If you’re remaking a beloved horror film that features blood as an integral story device, you should probably find a role for Chloë Grace Moretz. She was fantastic in 2010’s “Let Me In” (an updated take on the Swedish vampire film “Let the Right One In”), and she’s equally as effective as tragic figure Carrie White. Moretz doesn’t overplay meek outcast; a slightly dropped head hanging over unfortunately frumpy clothes made by her mother is enough. There’s something going on behind those darting eyes that seem to be constantly scanning for an escape route.
Carrie lives with her domineering mother Margaret (Julianne Moore), a religious zealot who shields Carrie from the wicked outside world. Any interaction with perceived evil or corruption must be washed away with prayer. Carrie is so naïve she doesn’t realize what’s happening to her when she gets her first period after gym class. Adopting the mob mentality, other girls mock her mercilessly. The nasty, self-centered Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) records the whole incident on her cell phone. Classmate Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) joins in at first but backs off. The blonde, statuesque, fair-skinned Sue is immediately identifiable as the “good egg,” in stark contrast to Chris’ plastered on smirk and orange-tinted fake tan reminiscent of an annoying reality show diva.
Sue feels guilty and is so affected by the bullying she asks her popular dreamboat boyfriend Tommy (Ansel Elgort) to squire Carrie to the prom for atonement. Banned from the big dance for posting the locker room video online, Chris schemes with her rebel boyfriend to make Carrie’s prom experience hell. In contrast to De Palma’s movie, this version clearly delineates the motives of Sue/Tommy and Chris and her partner in crime Billy. We know from the outset that Sue and Tommy aren’t part of prom night plot.
The mechanics of what leads to the tragic night are an interesting take and speak to the culture that surrounds the woefully out-of-touch Carrie. In a world of Twitter and instant everything, Carrie doesn’t even know how to maximize a YouTube video to full-screen. What she does have going for her though are supercharged, recently discovered telekinetic powers that give her an inner strength and may prove key to emerging from her shell.
The cast of “Carrie” is uniformly solid. Surrounding Moretz’s wonderful performance, her classmates are much more than just soulless faces in the crown. Wilde and Elgort are the right mix of saccharine adorable and grounded to make us believe their pure motives. School gym teacher Ms. Desjardin as played by Judy Greer is nurturing to Carrie when she has to be and tough as nails when dealing with those who may be plotting against her. In a genius casting, Hart Bochner (who played the slimy Ellis in “Die Hard”) has the uncredited role of evil girl Chris’ father. Had Ellis lived through the Nakatomi hostage crisis, I imagine he could’ve had a daughter like Chris. Moore shows restraint in her role as Margaret, not going to over-the-top with the crazy, letting subtle facial expressions and evidence of self-harm convey her inner demons.
Restraint is also key in Peirce’s direction. She doesn’t push the premise to its limits and lets the story breathe, building up to the well-known Big Moment and aftermath. Small moments like Carrie’s excitement at picking out the fabric for her prom dress or Tommy’s defense of her in English class tell us what we need to know without force-feeding us context. We see this world as Carrie would see it, becoming hopeful when things start falling into place for her, and devastated when cruelty rips that hope away.
There is some spotty CGI in the climax (especially with the splashes of the big blood drop), and Moretz at points looks like a burgeoning super villain complete with menacing shoulder movements and levitation, but it’s not enough to remove the heartbreaking perspective. The film also doesn’t end on the greatest note – with more weak CGI giving an obligatory twist on the stinger ending on the original – but there is more than enough here for “Carrie” circa 2013 to stand on its own as a frightening portrait of misunderstanding and torment.
© 2013 by Blake Crane