Sony Screen Gems
Rated R for bloody violence, disturbing images, language and some sexual content.
Running time: 99 minutes.
Two and a half stars out of four.
Don’t call it a remake.
Kimberly Peirce’s version of “Carrie” dubs itself as a “reimagining” of the high-school horror classic. Certainly, the director of “Boys Don’t Cry” would seem an inspired, intriguing choice to bring this famous story of a frightened (and frightening) bullied girl to a whole new generation. But beat for beat and moment for moment, Peirce’s “Carrie” remains safely faithful to the narrative and the images that Brian DePalma so indelibly etched in our minds when he adapted Stephen King’s novel in 1976.
Working from a script by Robert Aguirre-Sacasa (although original “Carrie” screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen tellingly shares credit), Peirce stages all the key scenes vividly and efficiently: the gym shower humiliation, the claustrophobia of the prayer closet, the unlikely prom date, the bucket of pig’s blood and, ultimately, the unleashing of Carrie’s fearsome telekinetic powers. If this were the only “Carrie” that ever existed, we probably would all view it as a sturdy and startling example of the genre. But comparisons are inevitable, especially given the stature the original “Carrie” retains within pop culture.
There was something shockingly raw about DePalma’s direction; the performances and the very presence of Sissy Spacek as the skittish title character and Piper Laurie as her smothering mother seemed almost animalistic in their purity. Chloe Grace Moretz, meanwhile, internalizes her anxiety early on but then wholeheartedly embraces the full force of her new-found abilities in the film’s wildly bloody crescendo. (After all, Moretz did make her name as the petite and potent Hit Girl in the “Kick-Ass” movies; here, she turns the film’s climax into something resembling performance art.) And Julianne Moore seems more ethereally creepy, whereas Laurie was downright demonic in her rage. Again, these are both hugely talented and versatile actresses whose work we’d all probably be completely satisfied with if a practically identical film hadn’t already moved us nearly four decades earlier.
Peirce, one of the most prominent queer directors working in film today (and the recent recipient of Outfest’s Achievement Award), theoretically would bring a unique insight, a personal perspective, to this well-known tale of an abused, damaged teenager who finds her strength and exacts her revenge on the popular kids who ostracized her. And she does offer the same sort of heartbreaking nugget at the core of “Carrie,” the one that makes the story unsettling in its sadness and not just in its frights.
Carrie White (Moretz), who’s been taught to doubt and hate herself by her doom-and-gloom, religious-zealot mom (Moore), is far more of a fragile, wounded creature than the average awkward teen. As if adolescence weren’t difficult enough, Carrie fears the wrath of God at every turn at the violent urging of her cruel mother. (The film’s opening scene, in which Margaret White gives birth to Carrie alone in her bedroom and then immediately tries to stab the newborn in the face with a pair of scissors, is deeply chilling to watch, whether you’re a parent or not.)
The fact that Carrie finally reaches a place where she feels comfortable opening up and enjoying her youth and femininity — only to be humiliated sadistically by the same classmates to whom she dared make herself vulnerable — is and always has been the most powerful part of “Carrie.” The hurt she experiences is far more devastating than the pain she inflicts on her peers in retribution. Peirce definitely grasps that: the place of loneliness from which Carrie’s anger springs.
Hunched over in the back of the classroom, uncomfortable showering with the mean girls — led by Gabriella Wilde as the pretty, popular Sue Snell and an awesomely wicked Portia Doubleday as the rich shit-stirrer Chris Hargensen — Carrie simply wants to disappear. The combination of discovering her telekinetic powers and receiving an invitation to the prom from superstar jock Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort) inspires her to emerge from her shell, slowly but surely. Judy Greer brings some much-needed dry wit to the role of Ms. Desjardin, the school’s P.E. teacher and the de facto parental figure who provides Carrie with encouragement.
The fact that we know that her tentative happiness will come crashing down all around her — literally — doesn’t make it any less agonizing to watch. It is a timeless thing for all of us, the ritual of high-school expectation and heartache. Once again, as it did nearly 40 years ago, “Carrie” turns it into an experience of biblical proportions.