In 1976 Brian De Palma adapted Stephen King’s novel “Carrie” for the big screen, featuring Sissy Spacek as a young high school girl with secret special powers who is pushed to an unfortunate breaking point. It became an instant classic, and made King a writer Hollywood would look at time and time again in the years to come. This year it gets a remake starring Chloë Grace Moretz (KICK-ASS 2) in the lead, and Julianne Moore taking on the mother role Piper Laurie made famous. It should be noted that the original CARRIE (1976) has had an attempted sequel and made-for-TV remake attempt already, but nothing that really seemed to wow audiences. So does this new take find a way to make it work?
The story opens with Margaret White (Julianne Moore) giving birth to a baby, seemingly by herself and naturally. As the baby comes out, she nearly kills it, by changes her mind at the last second. Cut to present day, and that baby is now a high school girl named Carrie (Chloë Grace Moretz) who lives a sheltered and religious lifestyle, and is constantly made fun of by the other kids in class. She appears to have no friends or supporters, save for the gym teacher Ms. Desjardin (Judy Greer). At home, she lives under the strict rules of her charismatic mother, who isn’t beyond locking her in a prayer closet should she talk back. One day after gym class Carrie gets her period in the showers, and instead of lending support the other girls taunt her and pelt her with tampons while laughing. One girl, Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde), begins to feel bad. Another, Chris (Portia Doubleday), takes things a step too far by filming Carrie’s breakdown and even posting it to YouTube. Now the school’s outcast has become even more or a joke to the students. Chris’ actions get her in serious trouble, and even cause her to be restricted from attending the school prom… something she now holds strongly against Carrie. Sue tells her boyfriend Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort) he should take Carrie to the prom, as a way of helping her fit in. Tommy reluctantly agrees and asks Carrie, who (despite knowing her mother will hate it) says yes. If you’ve seen the original, or even know the basic story, there’s no mystery as to where this is all headed.
Watching the new CARRIE is basically an exercise is seeing how tolerable of an adaptation it is, and compared to the original film it’s pretty close. Director Kimberly Peirce (BOYS DON’T CRY, an inspired choice for this project) and screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa follow the original Lawrence D. Cohen script pretty tightly in some areas, while at the same time modernizing the look and feel of the film. While you could safely say there’s not many surprises in what happens during the film, the experience is more about how we get there. Certain modern tropes of high school students, such as texting and internet use, are implemented into the proceedings without ever seeming cheap or forced. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this take is the look of Carrie herself, as Sissy Spacek looked and played her much more homely and frightened, whereas Moretz is playing her more as a girl who wants to fit in and be more normal… which by today’s standards is probably more relatable. The characters in this remake are all fleshed out pretty well, and all either likable or loathsome with perfect accuracy.
The real reason to see the movie is Chloë Grace Moretz, who is in a word excellent. There’s a sincerity and believable quality to her performance, and it’s easy to see the young actress is turning into a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. She’s so good, I found myself thinking (while watching the film) about the powerful roles she’ll be able to achieve as she gets older should her career stay on its current path. Seeing her as Hit-Girl in the KICK-ASS films is fun, but she’s got serious dramatic chops, and after LET ME IN and now this, she’s definitely proven her screen presence isn’t a fluke. When she plays scared, you believe she’s scared; when she plays mad, you believe she’s mad; and when she plays happy, you not only believe it but are (in that moment) genuinely happy for her.
I should also mention the rest of the cast is fairly exceptional as well. Julianne Moore is eerie and at time horrifying as Margaret White, giving us the maternal figure we all dread but taking it to frightening extremes. We’ve seen Moore do so many sympathetic character through the years, it’s really fun to watch her play the crazy antagonist here, and she seems to be making the most of the role. Portia Doubleday is also excellent as the vengeful Chris, solidifying the audiences hate toward her from almost the first frame she’s in. Rarely have I wanted to see a character die more in a film, and that kind of effect is admirable in the acting world. Gabriella Wilde and Ansel Elgort are also likable as the sympathetic classmates, though I would have liked to see more back story fleshed out with Wilde’s character, considering how things end with her. Judy Greer is also the sole school staff member the audience can respect here, as the only teacher who shows any concern for Carrie. The thing I like about Greer in this role is though she’s reached an age where she can now play the adult instructor, you can see in her that a few decades ago she could have tackled the same leading role Moretz did, and there’s a sort of “I can relate to you” quality about her character that is endearing.
While most of the new CARRIE is similar to what came before, and while most of it works pretty well, I did notice it seemed like the violence was tamer than I expected. In some ways I wonder if the filmmakers were originally trying for a PG-13 rating, and upon realizing the “R” it would get just gave in and kept it bloody. There’s one or two moments where I’m betting the intended audience (let’s face it, high school kids) will probably wish it had gone just a bit further in its bloodshed. While it’s hard to call this a good film, since it is just something we’ve seen before, I can say it’s a solid remake and a nice update. The strong performances and tight directing make it fun to watch, and you may even find yourself wanting more by the end. When the studio rep asked me what I thought exiting the theater, I simply said “All the kids who are going to sneak into this are going to love it.”