I’ll admit that I was very skeptical when I heard of the plans for a remake of Carrie. Part of my trepidation stemmed from weariness with the current glut of mostly unnecessary remakes, and part was due to my deep and abiding love for Brian De Palma’s original film. The good news is that while Kimberly Peirce’s remake is a worthy effort, the bad news is it lacks the Grand Guignol tone and iconic imagery that made the original so memorable.
The film opens with Carrie’s mother, the off-her-rocker Margaret White (Julianne Moore in full-tilt crazy mode) giving birth all alone in her house, the already difficult event made more so by the fact that she seems to be in a great deal of denial about what’s going on, declaring the child to be a “cancer” until it actually emerges from her body. Margaret seems a bit conflicted about the blessed event; at first she’s ready to kill the baby with scissors, then she relents and cradles the child.
Jump forward 16 years and Carrie White (Chloe-Grace Moretz) is an awkward and shy teen. Home-schooled for much of her childhood, she’s palpably ill-at-ease at her school, and never more so than in gym class (we later learn that Margaret considers a sleeveless shirt to be appallingly immodest, so you can imagine how Carrie feels at having to wear a bathing suit and play water polo, let alone take a shower in a communal locker room). Things get much worse when Carrie hits the showers after gym and has the much-belated and completely unexpected arrival of her first menstrual period. While a terrified Carrie, who thinks she’s bleeding to death, begs for help and is tormented by her classmates, it’s soon clear that the arrival of womanhood means that Carrie also now has telekinetic powers.
One of the girls, Sue, feels remorse for her treatment of Carrie and, to make amends, talks her boyfriend Tommy into taking Carrie to the prom. Meanwhile, Mean Girl Extraordinaire Chris, who’s already posted a cell phone video she took of Carrie’s humiliation to YouTube, now plans an appalling prank. Meanwhile, Carrie is learning to use her powers and stand up to her mother, who sees this as proof that her daughter is a child of the devil. None of this will end well.
Peirce’s film is more faithful to De Palma’s effort than to King’s original novel, interestingly enough. Many of the scenes and moments in the original film are re-created. The changes primarily are of tone and subtext. De Palma’s film was a revenge fantasy, while Peirce’s seems to be more about empowerment – at times the tone is almost that of a superhero origin story. Peirce also makes Carrie a rather more sympathetic character – her use of her powers at the prom is far less apocalyptic than in De Palma’s film (which left barely a student alive). Peirce has Carrie target her wrath specifically at her tormentors; one wonders if this was a reaction to setting the film in the post-Columbine era. It makes Carrie a more sympathetic character, but it also lessens the cathartic value of the film for those who endured our share of bullying and teasing at school.
One aspect of the story that benefits from the update is the use of technology to deepen Carrie’s humiliation. A story that once would have spread by word-of-mouth and taken time to be known to all is now posted on the internet for the whole world to see. Another nice touch was Carrie’s unfamiliarity with the computer, complete with hunt-and-peck typing. The backstory that Carrie had been homeschooled by her whackaloon mother for much of her childhood not only makes it plausible that she would be ignorant about menstruation and other matters, but exacerbates the awkwardness she feels in every social situation.
Unfortunately, the film drops the ball in its exploration of Carrie’s relationship with her mother. There is a nice bit at the beginning when the principal tells Carrie he’s called her mother to come pick her up, and Carrie looks terrified. Yet beyond that we don’t get the sense of the love-hate relationship that mother and daughter surely must share, and Carrie’s ability to stand up to her mother feels like a victory too easily won.
The acting is solid across the board, particularly Judy Greer as the sympathetic gym coach. Ansel Elgort makes Tommy a bit too much of a well-meaning lunkhead at first, but we soon see that he’s a genuinely nice guy. As for Moretz, she has the thankless job of taking an iconic role and performance and making it her own. She acquits herself very well – take note of the water polo scene, when without seeing her face, we instantly know which girl is Carrie, by her posture and body language. Moretz’s performance when using her powers is more physical than Sissy Spacek’s was; Spacek seemed to be a conduit for forces of wrath, while Moretz plays it as seizing power for the first time in her life. (Incidentally, I’ve seen many complaints that Moretz is “too pretty” to be a social outcast. Not every person who feels like an outsider is ugly as sin. Trust me, I know.)
It’s a good film, and a worthy effort. It will never replace the original for me, but given today’s audiences and their disdain for anything the least bit “dated” (and De Palma’s film is very much a product of its time), it’s a good thing that the story was made to appeal to a new generation.