A remake isn’t a bad idea by default. It’s hard to muster much enthusiasm for a re-telling of a story that was already told perfectly the first time and the batting average for cinematic revivals is consistently pitiful. The mistake isn’t the intent but always in the execution, and this is the biggest reason why Kimberly Peirce’s remake of Carrie falls flat.
The story has been updated but plays out the same as it did in Stephen King’s debut novel and Brian DePalma’s still-terrific film: a young girl named Carrie White (played by Chloe Grace Moretz) is bullied horribly at her high school but has an even worse time dealing with her crazed, fundamentalist mother (Julianne Moore), who frequently locks her daughter in the closet. When the most popular boy in school asks Carrie to the prom, it appears that things are turning around for the poor girl… especially since she’s discovered the frightening powers she possesses.
Additional details to the story either don’t work or don’t make any sense. There’s now a prologue in which we witness Carrie’s birth, which adds nothing. It’s revealed that Carrie’s mother works as a seamstress at a dry cleaning store: Could a psychotic, raving , shut-in lunatic really hold a job in the world outside her house?
References to Dancing with the Stars and Tim Tebow make the film very 2013 but won’t make it timeless. Adding cell phones and cruel online videos into the narrative also clashes with what is a story that really worked best in its own decade. Without spoiling it, what are the odds that teens this stupid would go to the trouble of acquiring and booby-trapping a bucket of pig’s blood? It worked before but seems archaic and unlikely today.
In the early ’70s, when King wrote this and his school shooting short story, “Rage,” the thought of a baby-faced king murdering their classmates was an unthinkable horror, even after Kent State. But today, after Columbine, Sandy Hook and the other horrifying reports of school shootings and high school bullying becoming more ruthless with every new generation, the message of Carrie no longer works.
What was once a horror story and a Romeo & Juliet-type tragedy now feels wrong-headed. Peirce’s intentions may be good but a parable about a young person who is bullied, figuratively and literally, then uses her newfound powers to rise against their oppressors works only in a comic book movie. But in a horror movie, are we supposed to cheer for the bullied kid when she murders everyone in her high school?
The story is so compelling, I thought the movie might work but everything feels so overdone and the tone is all over the place. Moretz’s performance is as uneven as the film itself–she’s touching during the first half of the prom sequence but never entirely connects with the role. A key line to her mother, “You’re scared… and so am I,” is delivered without any feeling.
Also, she’s too striking and lovely to pass for the school outcast. Like the female lead in She’s All That, whom the school realized was gorgeous after taking off her glasses and taking her hair down, Carrie simply puts on a coat of make-up, curls her hair and bingo, she’s Cinderella. Sissy Spacek’s still-potent, Oscar nominated turn in the original portrayed a girl whose presence made her classmates (and the audience) uncomfortable. Spacek’s emergence as the beautiful girl at the prom was stunning; with Moretz, Carrie’s makeover seems easy and inevitable.
The rest of the cast does fairly well, especially spot-on Judy Greer as Carrie’s only friend and gym coach. Moore is good but the script doesn’t know what to do with her. While watchable, it’s never scary and, once things go sour at the prom, it all falls disastrously apart.
Score: ** (1-5 Star Score)