Yup, that’s Carrie alright. Kimberly Peirce’s mostly-faithful adaptation of Stephen King’s first novel, and remake of Brian De Palma’s 1976 horror classic, revisits all the familiar story beats from the iconic tale about a repressed teenaged girl who lashes out at her bullies with telekinetic powers. The story is still potent enough to make this straightforward adaptation resonate, and the performances by Chloë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore in particular are excellent, but overall the storytelling lacks the personality necessary to hold up to its predecessor, or to the better horror movies of today.
Do I really have to keep writing about this? That’s pretty much all that needs to be said. The story is simplicity itself, to the extent that most people I know who haven’t seen or read the original Carrie already know it by heart. Carrie White (Moretz) is picked on at school for being an introvert, and abused at home by a religious zealot mother (Julianne Moore) who views women as biblically inferior and inherently given to sin. School bullies humiliate Carrie when she gets her first period in gym class, leading the penitent popular girl Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) to hook Carrie up with a dream date to the prom, and the self-involved ringleader Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) to punish Carrie further with a cruel prank that sends her over the edge. Which is a bad idea in general, but especially so when the victim has godlike psychic powers and no constructive outlet for her pubescent anger.
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s adaptation fleshes out some of the character transitions, making Sue’s journey from Carrie’s tormentor to her benefactor richer, and Chris’s schemes a little more emotionally complex through last-minute bullying jitters and the presence of a father figure (professional 1980’s yuppie portrayer Hart Bochner) whose attitude speaks volumes about how his daughter turned out. Carrie’s mother comes across like a less broad creation, whose self-flagellation clearly reveals how much she blames herself – not just Carrie – for the evils in her life. Carrie White is a difficult presence to nail on-screen, but Moretz does an effective job conveying her transformation from wallflower to confident teen rebellion to tragic anti-villain through body language and fluttering, insecure line delivery.
But Peirce’s direction lacks pizzazz compared to the original film, and despite the many horrifying moments even seems unwilling to take Carrie up a notch by modern standards. This version of Carrie plays extremely straight, allowing the story to more-or-less speak for itself. Although the story is still strong enough to do so, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is the Pictionary version of Carrie: instantly recognizable, but lacking in flourish.
One suspects the changes and simplified visual style is an intentional attempt to make the new Carrie accessible to young audiences who could be distracted by the very 1970’s cinematic approach Brian De Palma took to the original film. (Which was fitting, since it was made in the 1970's.) To this end, the new Carrie even injects social media as a plot point, and to its credit the inclusion makes a lot of sense and even ties smartly into Carrie’s final humiliation. Smoothing out the creases in the story doesn’t ruin the film in any way – except perhaps at the too-happy “I learned something today” ending, and the disappointing final scare – but it never quite takes off on its own, failing to carve itself a proper niche in the annals of the horror genre or even Carrie remakes (which previously include a TV movie and an ill-fated broadway musical).
Yup, it’s Carrie alright. Instantly recognizable as the same and better for having treated the source material seriously, just not as good as it could have been for being so direct about it. As the tag line promises, “You will know her name,” but mostly because you already knew it beforehand.