(by Dustin Putman
It takes a brave and/or foolish soul to dare remake a classic 1970s Brian De Palma film that, in turn, was based on a revered, best-selling novel by Stephen King. There are too many ways to count in which "Carrie" could have gone wrong, and, at times, it does falter by not quite living up to the original picture even as it adheres closely to it. This is an often inevitable pitfall of following in a great movie's footsteps. The outlook isn't entirely hopeless, however. There are plenty of reduxes that get things more right than wrong, and free-minded director Kimberly Peirce (2008's "Stop-Loss") has made one of the good ones. Thoughtful, stirringly suggestive, and finally tragic, "Carrie" lends an open-hearted empathy to its downtrodden title heroine, a teenage girl who wants nothing more than to fit in with her peers and lead a normal life. Though she gets a taste of the other side, it is ultimately not to be, leading to an extended third-act tour de force of revenge and destruction that makes an emphatic, aching, timely statement about the harm and cruelty that comes with bullying in our modern 21st-century culture. It may be difficult to completely separate one's fond memories of the earlier film while watching this one, but the 2013 "Carrie" still plays strongly on its own accord as Peirce puts her personal stamp on the material. Article continues below
Meek high school senior Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz) is an outcast at Ewen High School whose troubles only worsen when she gets her period for the first time in the girls' locker room. Raised by her mentally unstable mother, Margaret (Julianne Moore), a religious fundamentalist who has never taught her about the process of growing up and becoming a woman, Carrie is accosted by her female classmates when she pleads for their help. Coinciding with her late-blooming puberty is the discovery that she can move things with her mind, an ability she is relieved to find she shares with others. Sue Snell (Gabrielle Wilde), feeling guilty about her own unsavory behavior, convinces boyfriend Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort) to invite Carrie to the prom as a way of privately making amends. Their actions are pure of heart and relatively selfless, but they also inadvertently set into motion an evil prank that popular mean girl Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) begins to plot after she rebels against gym teacher Ms. Desjardin's (Judy Greer) disciplinary actions and is subsequently stripped of her prom privileges.
A person would have to be living under a rock—or simply very, very young and uninformed—to not know where things are headed. Carrie is understandably suspicious when Tommy asks her to the dance, but, when he continues to show interest in her, she accepts. Standing up to her oppressive mother for the first time, Carrie views the prom as her last chance to fit in and see what it's like to be a regular teenage girl. She makes her own dress, fixes herself up, and proves to be a swan by the time Tommy arrives in a white limo. At the prom, Carrie opens up and starts to bond with her date. Ms. Desjardin is ecstatic to see her pupil finally accepted. In a fairer world, were things to be different, it would be the first night of a new life and a new, more assured Carrie. Grievously, hell breaks loose instead, all stemming from a bucket of pig's blood precariously planted in the rafters above the auditorium stage. No one will ever be the same again. Most won't even live to see another day.
"Carrie" has been written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (a veteran of TV's "Glee"), adapting not only from Stephen King's 1974 book but also the past screenplay by Lawrence D. Cohen. A lot of the lines are verbatim from the book, while others derive from its cinematic precursor. In lesser hands, these latter similarities would be a hindrance, but director Kimberly Peirce and her outstanding cast ensure that the proceedings play freshly enough that it isn't just a copycat rendition. From the discombobulated appearance of Margaret through a frosted pane of glass, to a scene where Carrie's reflection places her in a dress she is eyeing in a storefront window, to an early volleyball game that goes from anxiety-fueled to funny to vicious when Chris passingly tells her, "You eat shit!" there is an attention to the details and rhythms of adolescent interaction, as well as the thematic metaphors of a filmmaker who knows what she wants and how to give the subject matter an invigorated personality. There are missteps—Carrie's telekinetic powers are incorporated too heavily into the first half, threatening to drown out the character's other complicated internal facets, while some business with falling rocks isn't adequately established and strikes one as over-the-top—but they are more the exceptions than the rules.
The opening hour is a carefully modulated setup for the unleashing of violence, mayhem and just desserts when Carrie's fleeting triumph comes crashing down around her. From this point onward, the film concocts an astounding level of heart-pounding tension as touching as it is scarily unhinged. Not everyone who suffers Carrie's wrath deserves it—many are ill-fated bystanders in the wrong place at the wrong time—but there is a terrifically cathartic satisfaction in seeing those who are guilty of humiliating her get punished. Her showdown against central antagonist Chris is a grisly showstopper, perfect in its audience-pleasing conception. Also of note is Carrie's concern for Tommy when he is badly hurt by the falling bucket of blood; by making this the turning point for Carrie's unleashing of her powers rather than the act of getting doused in blood herself renders her actions thereafter less self-serving and more complex.
Chloe Grace Moretz (2013's "Kick-Ass 2"), naturally very pretty, doesn't instantly convince in the part of Carrie—not through any fault of her own but more due to what seems like an imperfect casting decision looming in the shadow of Sissy Spacek's Oscar-nominated turn. Credit Moretz, then, from overcoming this handicap and making the part her own, the actress' usual exuberance fading to portray her character's sheltered, friendless demeanor and lack of self-confidence before reappearing in time for her enticing, all-too-brief glimpse into what her life could be like. That Carrie is spit out as quickly as she is accepted is a crushing blow that hurts, whether the viewer knows ahead of time where the narrative is going or not. As Margaret, Julianne Moore (2013's "Don Jon") gives herself completely to a frightening woman who has taken her devout Christian faith and rewritten the bible to satisfy her own irrational fears, unreasonable shame and ghastly repression.
These two fiercely dedicated performances are surrounded by rock-solid support from the eye-catching Gabriella Wilde (2011's "The Three Musketeers"), as the well-meaning Sue Snell; Judy Greer (2012's "Playing for Keeps"), genuine and sympathetic as gym teacher Ms. Desjardin, and stage actor Ansel Elgort, whose good-looking nice guy, Tommy Ross, grows to see Carrie as beautiful on the inside and out. Last and certainly not least, Portia Doubleday (2011's "Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son") is an exceptionally spiteful Chris Hargensen. Doubleday could have played this part in one note, but instead has chosen to give her an evocative glimmer of a conscience behind her steely, spiteful, vicious demeanor. She's an entitled brat, the kind of girl who does terrible things and then has her rich daddy stick up for her. He's as delusional as she is malicious.
A coming-of-age morality play, a vividly textural horror film, and a disquieting cautionary tale in the form of a supernatural thriller, "Carrie" has much to impress and debate. The key to success, above all, is that the audience comes to care about Carrie and want only the best for her—a desire unmet under the distressing circumstances. She is the movie's guide and anchor, coming radiantly into her own before fate pulls her newfound joy out from under her. Loaded with foreboding and accentuated by Marco Beltrami's (2013's "World War Z") inventively portentous music score, the picture will put at ease the skeptical fans of the 1976 film and might, as it did myself, surpass expectations. The decision to do away with the unforgettable jolt that ended the De Palma version is curious, but just as well; "Carrie" isn't about jump scares anyway. There is a real story here to tell, one that stirs and percolates in the mind—a hymn to the outcast, a battle cry for respect and tolerance in a world where sheer callousness too frequently usurps humanity and compassion.