When I was in middle school, Brian De Palma’s Carrie popped up on TV. My contemporaries were too young to have seen the 1976 horror flick in theaters, and home video was still rare, so the broadcast had the impact of a cult series finale today. In homeroom the morning after, nobody talked about anything but Carrie’s final shocker. Nice girls and mean girls, jocks and nerds, were united in their traumatized respect for a movie that reflected a dreamlike, horrifying, sometimes hilarious version of American high school.
I tell this story to illustrate why a Carrie remake is a losing proposition. The story alone is unlikely to thrill a generation glutted on slashers and neo-slashers. Carrie White’s bloody prom has become a familiar trope, a pop-culture touchstone. Yet recreating De Palma’s style — which has kept Carrie surprisingly fresh after nearly 40 years — would be a sterile exercise on the order of Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot Psycho remake.
Trying to split the difference between originality and imitation, director Kimberly Peirce pulls off neither. Peirce showed she could explore the hormonally charged world of youth in Boys Don’t Cry and Stop-Loss, but nothing she does here approaches the fever pitch of the original Carrie. Cleaving more closely to De Palma’s version than to the Stephen King novel, yet lacking the former’s idiosyncrasies, this remake defines “extraneous.”
Chloë Grace Moretz plays the title character, a small-town outcast whose Fundamentalist mom (Julianne Moore) lurks at home, forever eager to toss her in a closet and make her pray for deliverance from the evils of adolescent sexuality. So miseducated that her first menstruation takes her by surprise — yes, in 2013 — Carrie is ill equipped for the cruelties of high school. But her new talent for telekinesis comes in handy.
At first glance, 16-year-old Moretz might seem like a good fit, having made her name as a highly unaverage tween in films such as Kick-Ass and Let Me In. But there are many ways to be the “weird girl,” and Moretz’s preternatural self-possession is the diametrical opposite of Carrie’s flailing awkwardness. The young actress does her best, but much of her performance consists of hunching her shoulders in imitation of Sissy Spacek’s far more natural work. As for Moore, she plays a convincing crazy but lacks the moments of perverse warmth and affection that Piper Laurie brought to the role.
Peirce tries to play up King’s twisted take on mother-daughter relations by opening on the scene of Carrie’s birth, but this proves more ludicrous than disturbing. The script expands on the motivations of Carrie’s chief tormentor (a convincingly pissy Portia Doubleday) and the ways in which these teen queen bees use their boyfriends as pawns in their feuds. It’s a promising stab at a feminist take on the story, but it can’t survive the casting of bland, pretty CWTV types in key roles.
Teen horror fans tempted by this updated Carrie can be assured of one thing: There will be blood. While the remake’s prom scene lacks the hallucinatory pacing of the original and the brutal randomness of its violence, it’s plenty gory enough to earn the R rating.
As for the famous final scene that terrified my classmates, Peirce has updated it with what may or may not be a tepid girl-power statement about the bond between Carrie and her would-be savior, Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde). Either way, this “shock” won’t make many waves in homeroom. Maybe it’s time to let dead horror properties stay underground.