Remakes can be a tricky thing, especially with a film like Carrie. Brian De Palma's 1976 big screen adaptation of Stephen King's novel was a commercial and critical success, even receiving Academy Award nominations for Best Actress (Sissy Spacek as Carrie White) and Best Supporting Actress (Piper Laurie as her mother Margaret), a phenomenal achievement for a horror movie. De Palma's Carrie is a classic, an iconic piece of horror cinema, and a hard act to follow.
Although this piece of viral marketing is certainly a step in the right direction:
The 2013 remake of Carrie (and, to be clear, it is a remake of the original movie and not another adaptation of the book) was directed by Kimberly Peirce, who also directed Boys Don't Cry. It stars Chloe Grace Moretz (Let Me In, Kick-Ass) as Carrie and Julianne Moore as her mother Margaret. Peirce's approach to Carrie is, if I may borrow a phrase, same same but different.
Chloe Grace Moretz plays Carrie (image: Richard Goldschmidt via Wikipedia)
I think the differences between the two are best exemplified in the film's taglines. De Palma's Carrie sported the tagline 'If you have a taste for terror… take Carrie to the prom.' Here, Carrie is a movie monster, a figure to be feared. Peirce's Carrie uses the tagline, 'You will know her name.' While De Palma's Carrie embarks on vigilante style revenge, slaughtering even those who were kind to her, Peirce's Carrie is a tragic figure, a girl who is alternately abused and ignored. As a result, her revenge is a little more satisfying.
Film adaptations of Carrie (there was also a not very good straight-to-DVD version released in 2002) tend to take a sort of paint by numbers approach, and this version is no different. The scenes of the novel are followed faithfully – the period in the shower scene ("Plug it up! Plug it up!"), the subsequent punishment of the girls by gym teacher Miss Desjardin (played by Judy Greer), the guilt of popular student Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) leading to Carrie's invitation to prom by Sue's equally popular boyfriend Tommy (Ansel Algort), and the fury of class bully Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) leading to the infamous pig's blood scene.
But there are just enough tweaks and additions to prevent it from looking like a scene by scene reshoot. The opening scene, in which Margaret White gives birth to Carrie, is original, and redolent with creepy symbolism and terrors unspoken. The shower scene is given a slightly modern makeover; in this version, Chris Hargensen films the action on her smartphone and uploads it to YouTube. It's a subtle inclusion that fits the movie nicely.
While I don't see any Academy Award nominations on the horizon, the movie is excellently cast. Moretz nails that whole awkward, flinching, trying desperately to be invisible thing while Moore is just awful, and I mean that as the best possible compliment. The biggest surprise for me was Judy Greer as Miss Desjardin. I've seen her play enough sarcastic best friend type characters that her casting as the sympathetic gym teacher seemed a bit incongruous, but after her first scene, I bought it completely. Ansel Algort as the dumb, lovable Tommy Ross provides some laughs as well.
Julianne Moore (image: Nicolas Genin via Wikipedia)
Judy Greer (image: lukeford.net via Wikipedia)
The film sets a cracking pace so that, even though the action doesn't occur until the very end, there's enough psychological dread, courtesy of Carrie's mother and her psychopathic tormentor, and uncomfortably wondrous supernatural scenes, courtesy of Carrie's discovery of her telekinesis, to keep the viewer hooked. When the action does come, it is well worth the wait - poetic, almost, in its creativity.
The script falls flat in a few places – if I'd taken a shot every time Tommy says some variation of 'having a good time', I wouldn't have been able to drive home – but who expects Pullitzer Prize material in a horror movie? I also would have liked to see more scenes between Carrie and Sue Snell. Without them, Sue could have been seen as complicit in the prank from Carrie's viewpoint, and that just makes her (spoilers!) decision to save Sue a little puzzling. Still, there's a lot to like in this adaptation, which is smarter than your average horror movie.
I give it four and a half buckets of pig's blood out of five.
That coffee shop stunt's a ripper (as a customer, I would be genuinely freaking out)... The movie sounds like it stays true the original, shall put it on my 'bucket list' (only without the pig's blood)!