The latest cinematic incarnation of Stephen King’s Carrie opens with a scene that can’t be found in Brian de Palma’s 1976 version. Margaret White (Julianne Moore), believing she’s been cursed by God as in the process of dying, gives birth to a baby girl. Feeling it’s a sign of sin, she contemplates taking its life. But she doesn’t, and the young girl grows up to be the infamous teen we all know.
That’s an intriguing twist for a film that could settle into contemporized rehash, adding motivation and complexity to Carrie’s most formidable aggressor. Intriguing and fleeting, as Kimberly Peirce’s horror waters down its defining features with familiar beats and Hollywood glossiness. Sticking to what worked the first time proves semi-successful; Peirce retranslates the brutality of King’s story with film language that should startle today’s teenagers. But 21st century special effects aren’t enough to justify the movie’s existence — Chloë Grace Moretz never inhabits Carrie, making her entire performance an out of body experience. It’s one thing to play uncomfortable, socially off-balance. It’s another to never see eye-to-eye with that character, to pretend to be on the fringes. All of Carrie suffers from this disconnect, despite attempts to layer in new allegory and take psychic destruction to new levels.
In a world where bullying has been declared an epidemic, Carrie feels reserved in its attempts to provoke its young anti-heroine into violent retaliation. Carrie is a target of ridicule, but the local mean girls barely shoot her a glance. She’s always off to the side — like in her phys-ed pool volleyball game — and off the radar. It’s only after Carrie experiences her first period in the worst way possible (at school, in the locker room, during a shower, convinced that she’s bleeding to death, touching a catty hot chick with her bloody hands) that suddenly she’s in the crosshairs. And even then, life’s not that bad.
Gym teacher Ms. Desjardin (Judy Greer) does everything in her power to block the vengeance-thirsty Chris (Portia Doubleday) from further torturing Carrie. Future blonde model Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) feels so bad that girls threw tampons at poor ol’ Carrie, she forces her boyfriend to take the lonesome girl to prom. While Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s screenplay is culling directly from the book and original film, the main thrust of Carrie feels timid in today’s climate.
So does Moretz, who can’t pull back enough to turn Carrie into a realistically frail object of torment. There’s nothing lived in about Carrie, even when we see her back home with Margaret, beaten with the words of God over and over again. For a girl who spends a majority of her home life locked in a closet, dwelling on her shortcomings as the Crucifix towers above her, she’s relatively together. When she discovers her psychic powers, she immerses herself in paranormal literature and the sinful waters of Internet research (luckily, a boy is around to help her use Google, because her life’s been so hard she never learned how to use it). Inconsistency runs rampant in the crescendo of Carrie’s life, and it sucks the life straight out of the grand finale.
Peirce shoots the hell out of Carrie’s rampage, but like Moretz, can’t slowly crank the dial on the pressure cooker. The movie is flat, with supporting roles being surface-level throwaways and every twist of the formula dropped almost instantly. Moore provides a little zest with her unhinged mama, who we’re aching to see more of despite the source material keeping her at bay. She’s the key to Peirce’s version of the story, and moments where we see her at work, sewing at the local dry cleaners, feel gripping. There’s just not enough of it. There’s not a lot of anything. A scene where the high schoolers montage their way through prom dress and tux fittings feels like a scrapped vision of the remake pitch. “What if the Carrie remake felt like a teen sex comedy until… it didn’t?” Peirce’s movie is aching to say something with a hurry-up-and-get-to-the-good-stuff mentality rushing it along.
Carrie isn’t offensive or satisfying, a dull interpretation that looks and tastes like processed meat. The parts are there, the casing is recognizably manufactured. The movie can’t escape the shadow of the ’76 version because it strives to mimic it; even Moretz does her best Sissy Spacek googly hands/crazy eyes. It’s one of the more awkward set of movements ever committed to film. As Carrie is a story about identity and individualism, the 2013 remake is an example of what happens when a movie can’t recognize its own uniqueness and goes ballistic anyway.
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