By Benjamin Lucas
Kimberly Peirce’s adaptation of Carrie, which hit theaters on Oct. 18, is a remake in the purest sense of the word. It follows the 1970s film almost beat for beat, with few changes of note. It is nearly impossible to discuss a movie like this without falling back on the “just watch the original” argument, an argument that has become as much of a cliché as the movies to which it applies.
Does anyone out there still lament the unoriginality of Hollywood, or have we all stopped paying attention and moved on to television for our entertainment?
In any case, I will try not to make too many comparisons to Brian De Palma’s stylish and (much) better interpretation of Stephen King’s novel, and instead focus on this version alone, for what it is.
This time around, Chloe-Grace Moretz takes on the titular role as a lonely teenage outcast Carrie White, savagely bullied by her classmates and trapped in an overly-sheltered household by her hyper-religious nut-job mother, played here by Julianne Moore.
Upon her transition into womanhood, she discovers she has telekinetic powers, which are eagerly utilized come prom night when faced with a very cruel and messy prank. I am happy to report this movie has all the pig’s blood and locker room humiliation you could ask for in a modern Carrie adaptation.
Much of Carrie plays out like a superhero origin tale; through a moment of panic, Carrie discovers her potential and, later on, she takes a trip to the library to read up on telekinesis and watch a helpful video for more information. Afterwards, she practices levitating objects in her room.
Carrie’s mother sees what she is capable of and comes to the conclusion that her daughter is cursed by the devil. However, the true source of her power is never revealed — is it a bizarre product of her mother’s religious teachings, or of Carrie’s deep-seated rage? Could it possibly be both?
Playing King’s novel like an origin story was a mistake. Carrie is not a superhero. She is a shy, awkward, young girl unable to have a proper childhood due to her mother’s influence and failures. Her enigmatic personality only drives her classmates further away, and here King and DePalma leave out a key aspect of high school social dynamics: people tend to be afraid of and eventually grow to hate what is different.
These elements culminate in the iconic prom night massacre, a tragic and uncoordinated lashing out at everyone who has wronged her.
The newest Carrie, however, turns the climax into a punch line and then into a revenge fantasy, heightening its incredulity with glaringly obvious CGI. How is it that, 40 years later and with a bigger budget, the filmmakers managed to make the prom scene in this adaptation look worse than it did in the original?
Moretz does the best she can in an unfortunately miscast role. She is as pretty as any young Hollywood movie heroine you will see this week, but the role of Carrie simply demands someone more appropriately downtrodden and disheveled (such as the original actress, perfectly cast and Oscar-nominated Sissy Spacek).
Moretz’s talent does shine through occasionally, but she is never quite believable as a product of abuse as Spacek undoubtedly was. She comes off like any normal, contemporary teenager, talking back to her mother and failing to display any diffident or submissive qualities (if anything, she has more in common with the bullies than with Carrie White).
Meanwhile, Julianne Moore chomps down on the scenery in an over-the-top display of hushed biblical babbling as Mrs. White, played by Piper Laurie in DePalma’s original version of the film.
My favorite player is Judy Greer as the self-assured gym teacher who bans the bratty head bully from attending the prom. She acts as the modern counterpart of Betty Buckley’s Miss Collins.
I am curious as to how Peirce would have approached this story had she not been under what I can only assume were Hollywood studio constraints. Her previous films were thoroughly complicated and intimate (Stop-Loss handled a retired army veteran’s forced return to Iraq, while Boys Don’t Cry was about a transgendered woman in the South). Was there an earlier draft that dove deeper into the issues of troubled youth before some higher-up forced them in line?
Just watch the original.