Scary Carrie The Second Time Around

by Mark Burger

If it was a Hollywood inevitability that Carrie be remade, then director Kimberly Peirce’s version is about as good as could be hoped for — and maybe just a little better.

For those who don’t know the story, Carrie is about a withdrawn, mousy teenager who has been raised by a religious-fanatic mother and repeatedly picked on and humiliated by the “popular” high-school crowd. Carrie, however, possesses the power of telekinesis — by which she can move objects with her mind — and eventually she is pushed into using those powers to exact retribution. And they all died horribly ever after.

There was, of course, the hit 1976 film adapted from Stephen King’s very first bestseller and directed by Brian De Palma, which launched Sissy Spacek to stardom and her first Oscar nomination, a belated (23 years!) sequel, a TV movie in 2002, a failed Broadway musical, then a failed revival of that musical. Surely, Carrie wasn’t going to rest in peace. There’s just something about that girl.

Peirce takes a more straightforward approach than De Palma’s wickedly subversive take, yet the new Carrie does have an energy and drive to it — due in large part to the affecting performances of Chloe Grace Moretz as Carrie and especially Julianne Moore as her mad momma Margaret.

Following King’s story and the original film fairly closely — enough to earn original scribe Lawrence D. Cohen a full credit — the new Carrie dutifully follows the general blueprint mapped out in King’s novel. Carrie may be a monster (of sorts), but she’s always sympathetic, and there’s a timeless satisfaction in watching her strike a blow for the adolescent outcast. Who among us hasn’t felt the same way in high school at one time or another? Given the reallife school tragedies that have occurred in recent years, the film takes great pains to sidestep too much deep meaning.

A surprising amount of screen-time is devoted to Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday), Carrie’s principal tormentor, and Sue Snell (leggy Gabriella Wilde), the one girl who feels sorry for Carrie — so much so that Carrie almost becomes a supporting character in her own movie. Judy Greer plays a kind-hearted gym teacher and Ansel Elgort, who resembles a young Mark Ruffalo, plays Sue’s boyfriend Tommy Ross, who accompanies Carrie to prom — a night that no one will forget, for sure. Those left alive in its wake, anyway….

The climactic prom sequence in the original film was positively apocalyptic in De Palma’s bravura execution, but is less so here… although it’s undoubtedly more politically correct. It’s difficult not to compare the two films, even separated as they are by over 35 years, because of the sheer impact of the original. This Carrie is no insult to the original (nor to King’s novel) and, given the dire remakes of such ’70s favorites as Halloween, The Omen and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it’s easily transcendent under those circumstances and in that company. There is, however, some very strange editing on display here, with one major character’s hair color varying from scene to scene.

Every time Moore turns up, the film perks up considerably. The actress is in one of those marvelous career grooves where she can do no wrong. Much as Piper Laurie punched up the original Carrie, Moore is deliriously offbalance and on-target throughout. Of course, she too gets what’s coming to her. Mother may know best, but she gets it worst.