Directed by Kimberly Peirce
Starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Gabriella Wilde, Portia Doubleday, Alex Russell, Zoë Belkin, Ansel Elgort, Judy Greer
We all know the delightful bedtime story of Carrie and the Pig’s Blood Prom: strange, loner girl experiences first bloodbath period (literally and figuratively) at school and becomes the target of tampon-slinging ridicule from her merciless peers. Charitable popularite Sue repents and urges hot-stuff boyfriend, Tommy, to bring Carrie to the prom, where she receives an unexpected swine viscus shower and promptly employs telekinesis to exact a wrecking ball of bloody revenge. It’s squarely within the horror genre, but it’s never really been a scary movie. The subject is far more unsettling and grotesque, a step back from jumpy frights and into demented psychology. Kimberly Peirce attempts to navigate the open can of worms within that tender, twisted psyche but stops short, pursuing the studio-brandished sheen of an American Hollywood horror remake.
As the film opens, Peirce provides a new introduction to Carrie. We meet her as a slimy head emerging from her mother’s womb, met with all the warmth and motherly love of a trembling butcher knife clutched by Julianne Moore‘s Margaret – a woman convinced her child is the product of sin and, accordingly, born of the devil. This new scene solidifies the weapon-wielding, love-hate relationship between mother and daughter that will go on to become a through line of Peirce’s retelling of the story while also playing at our natural guardian sensibilities that no baby should be inches from a razor sharp blade. It invites the right type of winches and cringes from an uneasy audience desiring something fresh.
Securing Moore as Margaret is a move of inspired casting. Moore’s usual warmth is gone, replaced with jitterish paranoia and a penchant for closet-rearing corporal punishment. The real irony though is that in spite of all of her bible-thumping madness, she is pretty much right on the money all along. Carrie’s abilities may not necessarily be born of the devil but a very easy utilitarian argument could be made that if Margaret pulled the trigger on her infanticide instinct, she would have saved the town a lot of grief and a lot of lives. But tricky debates of this nature are tabled and left wholly unexamined.
Skirting around these deeper philosophical questions that would have made for a much more interesting movie (more of a reinvention than an outright remake) Peirce’s Carrie settles with being largely a paint-by-numbers remake, doused in a blanket of digital makeup from all the wonders of current CGI technology.
Hunched like a troll, the teenage version of Carrie is awkward like a platypus. Corner-standing and slinking seem to be her main primary hobbies around the high school she attends, so it’s no wonder she doesn’t have a Facebook full of friends. In fact, she doesn’t really seem to have a Facebook at all (gasp).
Following her unsettling shower scene though, Carrie seems to somehow become more confident than she was before, as if her virginal menstration opened up a new chapter in the book de Carrie’s mind. But that probably has less to do with that nasty pool of time-of-the-month blood and more to do with the telekinetic powers that seem to accompany her corporeal transformation into an adult. I don’t know if Carrie’s physical coming into womanhood is supposed to be linked to the emergence of her powers but they definitely both seem to start their flow around the same moment.
At any rate, Carrie goes about wielding her new found powers with the sneakiness of a jitterbug-thumbed high-schooler texting a storm in the midst of Spanish class. That is – how the hell is no one noticing?! She screams and tampons flutter away from her, she’s visibly upset and water coolers crumble like piñatas. While this version really ratchets up the degree of foreboding in the escalation of Carrie’s powers, it fails to take into account the reactions of those around her. It’s as if they’re all used to telekinesis, like it ain’t no thang.
Conceivably, their ignorance could be a side effect of the fact that everyone at this untitled Maine school is pretty much the worst person in the world. Even the English teacher mocks Carrie between takes eye-banging his female students. While I’m sure that opening the floor to debate about the relative ease or difficulty of people’s high school experiences is another can of worms entirely, I’m a homegrown Mainer and I don’t think you could pinpoint any school, Maine or otherwise, where every single person would burst out laughing at you in the midst of the most unfortunate moment of your life. Surely, they’re the next level of “tough crowd”. I’m fully aware that this is a work of fiction and as such everything is amped up a notch for effect but this “everyone is the worst” reality really stood out to me in this version as disingenuous and irritating.
As Hollywood’s go-to girl for teenage risqué, Chloë Grace Moretz works well as Carrie and is far easier to empathize with than the otherworldly pale Sissy Spacek from Brian De Palma‘s version. She’s more of an ordinary girl under extraordinary circumstances than a full-blown weirdo – someone who could have been perfectly normal if she wasn’t subject to the manipulation of her Looney-Toon mama.
It’s clear to me that the main issue with this film and with the story, is that it only works if everyone, save for Carrie, is the worst. Otherwise, we’re rooting for a serial killer. Dexter may have proved that that formula can work, but only if it’s done right. I understand that we’re supposed to sympathize with poor Carrie and the ghastly deeds brought down on her but the world in her reality is just so plastic, so invented, and so aggravating. Couple that with the fact that you’re probably going into Carrie already knowing the conclusion and it’s hard to imagine that what Peirce has cooked up will satisfy those who are looking for more than mere updated special effects.