In a year where I’ve been surprised by numerous horror remakes and reboots, director Kimberly Peirce is the next director tasked with revitalizing a classic tale, and in Peirce’s specific case, it’s a Stephen King story that Brian De Palma already brilliantly adapted to screen (with a TV version starring Angela Bettis floating around as well). Kimberly wasn’t worried about remaking De Palma’s story though, as her focus was to bring a fresh new vision to King’s heralded source material – Carrie was to be a rivaling, isolated film.
Assembling the crack team of Julianne Moore and Chloë Grace Moretz as Margaret and Carrie White, we’re given yet another opportunity to watch this poor female outcast be tormented by despicable students, but more importantly, we get to see Carrie seek sweet, satisfying retribution. Could Chloë Grace Moretz be a telekinetic Prom Queen worth voting for – or would audiences be soaking themselves in pig’s blood for no good reason?
King’s story depicts the strange journey of Carrie White (Moretz), a girl born into an extremely religious household run by a mother who only quoted scriptures and sheltered Carrie from the world. After gym class one day, while our shy teenager is showering, she finds herself becoming a mature woman and witnesses her first period – but has no idea. Thinking she’s dying, Carrie begins screaming for help, only met with heckling and harassing from the other girls. Angry and confused, Carrie accidentally learns she has a special power, one that she begins to harness – telekinesis. At the same time, she’s asked to the prom by local dreamboat Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort), after agreeing with his girlfriend (Gabriella Wilde) that Carrie deserves a night of fun – a pity date if you will. But, when one of Carrie’s harassers gets banned from prom, she decides to play a prank on the innocent girl, completely unaware of her newfound powers. Let’s just say what transpires is a prom night filled with more death, destruction, and fear than usual.
Stepping into the now iconic lead role of Carrie is budding star Chloë Grace Moretz, the little firecracker who stole our hearts as Hit Girl, let us into her vampiric life while leading another remake, Let Me In, and brings a special doe-eyed innocence to Carrie White. While Sissy Spacek sent shockwaves through the horror world back in 1976, leading De Palma’s original film to rave reviews, Moretz establishes her very own mysterious outsider vibe, setting a distinctive difference between Carrie and the other school girls. Spacek received a Best Actress nod back in the day, verifying her dominating on-screen presence, and while Moretz won’t receive the same honor, her version of Carrie was insanely easy to sympathize with, but I also believe her transformation into this floating hellbeast was more dynamic and impactful, as we stared into her hypnotic, blood-red eye. With every role Chloë Grace Moretz produces, she shows audiences that her talents know no boundaries – Carrie White being her latest dynamite characterization.
Julianne Moore is also excellent, as she truly becomes Margaret White, Carrie’s paranoid, obsessive, wingnut mother, and does so in a complete, head-to-toe transformation. Gone was Julianne, and in her place we’re given a protective, loving mother with good intentions, but who’s been brainwashed by religion. Feverishly spitting out bible passages, calling breasts “dirty pillows,” smashing her head against the wall in an attempt to guilt her daughter – Moore morphs herself into a dual-sided villain, and does so with eerie undertones, as we can feel a mother’s love, yet cannot approve of her deranged methods. Julianne accentuated Margaret’s conflicting good and bad sides whenever the situation called for it, swaying our perception from understanding to hatred. Be thankful your mother only woke you up early for church once a week instead of throwing you in a dark closet to pray – daily.
Carrie‘s biggest flaws become present while exaggerating high school life though, as almost every major teenage cliché is utilized, and not in a cheeky, witty way, or an over-the-top, jokey, Jennifer’s Body type of way. I couldn’t help but laugh as hot-shot lacrosse star Tommy Ross sauntered down the high school hallway in slow motion, high-fiving teachers and classmates alike, posing at random hotties as they worshiped the ground he walked on, all while Tommy sported his best “Blue Steel” imitation – like he’s in the next overly douchey Levi’s commercial. Oh, yeah, and what high school has an Olympic sized swimming pool where gym classes can play water volleyball?! Either my childhood sucked, or Carrie took place in the richest, most out of touch town imaginable – which it did.
The girls were overly bitchy and got away with absolute murder, the men were just horny, sex crazed stereotypes that probably all owned plastic companions at home, and the teachers were helpless, blatantly hitting on students, or slapping them around. Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s screenplay was horribly out of touch with reality and deflated drama by overcompensating with stolen Mean Girls material, making the build up, and even more horrifying aspects, sadly laughable.
Finishing with a powerful punch, Peirce elected to go the CGI route for Carrie’s inevitable explosion, finally getting back at all the bastards who spray-painted hurtful graffiti on lockers, threw tampons at her, and mocked her lifestyle. Moretz’s performance is a saving grace amongst a noticeable lack of practical goodies, as most deaths are digitized and animated. With that said, I still enjoyed watching Carrie seek revenge, and Moretz fully embraces Carrie’s wicked powers, throwing about exposed power lines and leveling students with tables. Carrie unleashes all her aggression, bottled up from stage one, and while a more valiant attempt at practical effects driven horror would have bolstered Moretz’s finale, we certainly aren’t leaving prom on a sour note.
It’s a shame that Carrie is really the only major horror movie being released this Halloween, not because Peirce fails miserably, but because there aren’t many scares to be had. Moretz and Moore drive this misguided high school shocker with a sinister mother/daughter chemistry, but the supporting characters all seem like hollow replicas from mainstream pop-culture. Peirce does her best, and delivers a film that’s fun, fresh, and spunky – but doesn’t live up to De Palma’s classic. Not only that, but without Chloë Grace Moretz, Carrie would have been a complete disaster, as Kimberly Peirce focused all her faith on Saint Chloë, and was rewarded for her unwavering confidence. Instead, Peirce’s film fills a horror-less void this season with just enough genre entertainment to keep us fans going. I guess we’ll take what we can get.