A film review by Craig J. Koban October 25, 2013  


2013, R, 99  mins.


Julianne Moore as Margaret White  /  Chloë Grace Moretz as Carrie White  /  Judy Greer as Miss Desjardin  /  Portia Doubleday as Chris Hargensen  /  Alex Russell as Billy Nolan  /  Gabriella Wilde as Sue Snell  /  Max Topplin as Jackie Talbott  /  Connor Price as The Beak  /  Michelle Nolden as Estelle Parsons  /  Cynthia Preston as Eleanor Snell  /  Ansel Elgort as Tommy Ross

Directed by Kimberly Peirce  /  Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, based on the novel by Stephen King

Approaching a remake of one of the most iconic horror films of the 1970’s – if not of all time – is a daunting task for the film critic, especially if one holds the original Brian De Palma 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel so dear to their hearts (as I certainly do).  This isn’t exactly the first time we’ve returned to the CARRIE universe (there was a 1988 Broadway musical, a 1999 film sequel, and a 2002 TV film), so this new incarnation represents a third attempt to bring the literary world of King to the screen.  

A remake is only good, I would prescribe, if (a) it remains faithful to the integrity of its antecedent and (b) it does something uniquely fresh with the underlining material that makes it stand out from the original.  On this basis, this retooled CARRIE is partially successful.  It certainly reveres the De Palma version in spades, but as far as intrepidly paving a refreshing path and course for new (and old) viewers, the film is unavoidably a bit of a letdown.  What does stand out, though, is the fact that this new version boasts superlative people behind and in front of the camera: It has one of the most respected female directors working today in Kimberly Peirce (BOYS DON’T CRY and the underrated STOP LOSS) and Julianne Moore and Chloe Grace Moretz in the lead roles.  The performances and direction in the film are sort of thanklessly great, considering the inherently slavish attitude this film has towards De Palma’s film.  

For starters, CARRIE embarks on a whole new prologue to open the film, which is sensationally staged and unnerving.  During it, we see a religious fanatic Margaret (Moore) giving birth to her daughter, all alone and clearly afraid…and very demented.  Margaret, though, is so sure of the unholiness of her newborn that she grabs a pair of scissors (the same ones she used to cut the umbilical cord) and attempts to murder the infant.  Something stops her and she then embraces the baby.  The film then flashforwards to the present as we see the kid, Carrie White (Moretz) as a shy, deeply introverted, and socially ostracized teen attending Ewen High School in Maine.  Like the opening of the De Palma original, we witness the poor girl become traumatized by experiencing her first menstrual cycle in the girl’s shower room after gym class.  Two girls in particular, Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) and Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) lead the charge of other girls in throwing tampons at Carrie as she writhes on the ground suffering from a panic attack.  Chris films it all on her cell phone camera and uploads it to You Tube. 



Carrie does not get much solace or comfort on the home front either.  Margaret is not so much a maternal figure to Carrie as she is a cruel and despotic overseer of every facet of her life.  When she thinks that her daughter has been religiously impure, she locks her up in a small little dungeon of a room (a “prayer closet”) that resides under the stairwell.  All of these social stresses begin to trigger something in Carrie: a newfound ability to manipulate everything around her with her mind.  As Carrie's power is growing, Chris in the meantime plots a cruel act of vengeance on Carrie after she became suspended and unable to attend the prom as a result of her hellish locker room actions.  Sue, on the other hand, has a change of heart and convinces her boyfriend (Ansel Elgort) to take Carrie to the prom instead of her as a means of atoning for her social ills.  All of this culminates with the night of the prom, and just when Carrie has found some semblance of social acceptance and confidence in herself, Chris forges ahead with her plan to further embarrass Carrie…which leads to…well…if you’ve seen the De Palma film you know where this is heading. 

Much like the original film, this new CARRIE is essentially the ultimate wish-fulfillment revenge fantasy for any adolescent that has been tormented by their school peers.  Peirce’s film, I think, has a different type of resonance today on the subject, considering how viral social media has only complicated and redefined the whole thorny matter of bullying.  It’s one thing for the girls of De Palma’s film to verbally abuse poor Carrie in that locker room, but Peirce’s film shows the dastardly girls recording and broadcasting it online.  Also unlike the original is how one of the initial bullies, Sue, begins to have a quick crisis on conscience in regards to her treatment of Carrie, which makes her a bit more of a surprisingly well rounded character.  If anything, Peirce captures the inner psychology of her characters rather well, which helps gives the film a needed layer of dramatic depth. 

Nothing will be able to erode the memory of Sissy Spacek’s legendary turn as Carrie in the ’76 film, which leaves Chloe Grace Moretz with the dubious task of trying to make her portrayal all her own while remaining true to the essence of the character.  She is not Spacek’s equal, that much is sure, but Moretz captures the loneliness, uncertainty, and melancholy that haunts Carrie with remarkable nuance and tact (granted, she displays a lot more sadistic glee when she embarks on an orgy of bloody comeuppance in the film’s finale than Spacek’s Carrie did).  Moore is the film’s standout, though, giving a juicy and nutty-as-hell performance that's arguably more creepily charismatic and engaging than what Piper Laurie brought to the role nearly 40 years ago.  Every waking moment that Moore is on screen is a truly bravura one: she infuses the CARRIE remake with a sinister dash of unpredictable eeriness. 

Everyone, of course, remembers the climax of the original, which, to be fair, is hard to forget.  Peirce seems more than equal to the task of crafting a visual effects-laden final act that’s chillingly macabre and feverously intense all the same.  Paradoxically, I found myself both fully engaged in the climax as well as being numbed into tedium by it.  There’s no doubt that Peirce is a gifted director and clearly has the skills and tools at her disposal to make sequences like this exhilaratingly watchable as an atrocious spectacle of mass murder, but beyond the spectacle there’s not much else happening here.  There are shots of pure innovation (like one of a head going though a car window), but little in the way of expanding upon or revitalizing what De Palma did in his film.  The climax here seems to spin its wheels and just goes through the motions. 

I’m really conflicted about this CARRIE.  People at the screening that obviously have never seen the original were truly immersed in it, whereas people like me that worship De Palma’s vision of King’s book…perhaps not as much.  Peirce’s film is thoughtfully acted and looks sensational, so on those levels I recommend it.  I can’t quite recommend it, however, to those that worship at the alter of the 1976 iteration, seeing as Peirce and company don’t quite do enough to resourcefully distance themselves from it.  I think that my 3-star rating is appropriate, but with hesitant reservations.  If you haven’t seen the original CARRIE, then this new one is a solid, slickly made, and fairly engrossing horror thriller.  For those in the opposite camp, however, I still think you’ll come out appreciating it…just a bit less so. 

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