Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Screen Gems
We can divide the incoming audience of Kimberly Peirce’s Carrie remake into three categories. First, dutiful fans of the original — just about any modern day cinephile, or regular human being who was at least a teenager in the mid-1970s. A collective who might be expecting, based on a passage of four decades and an insightful director like Peirce, something altogether different than Brian De Palma’s horror classic. As much as we might have loved the old version, we’re not heading to theaters to see it reproduced with Chloë Grace Moretz standing in for Sissy Spacek.
Second, we have the group who never got around to De Palma’s Carrie, or at least who do not remember it with any particular fondness, but who hold Stephen King’s novel in high regard. A group who might expect the epistolary form of the narrative to translate to screen in some inventive way, telling Carrie White’s story the way that King did back in his early days.
Finally, the youngest of the lot: those who never saw, never read, maybe even never heard of Carrie, but who are flocking to theaters out of love for the young Moretz and in hopes of a good scare. These are likely to be the participants most satisfied — although it is the goal to approach every new feature film as a work independent from all predecessors and source material, anyone who has seen the ’76 Carrie will have a hard time eviscerating the connotations from his or her head while watching the new venture.
Just shy of a shot-for-shot remake, Peirce’s Carrie doesn’t come through on many of the progressive tones or innovations than might arise from connotations with the film’s director. When the film does deviate, those in the know will wonder why — why the transformation of the Billy Nolan character (played here by Alex Russell, previously by Jon Travolta) from lowly dufus into a criminal mastermind? Why the changes in Carrie’s understanding of her classmates’ ultimate misdeed (we won’t say more, just in case you’re in Category 3), or in her scenes at home to follow? To those who can’t seem to get De Palma off the mind, it’ll be difficult to justify these very few changes… especially in light of the overwhelming presence of his shadow cast by the new movie’s decision to operate in such conjunction with everything we saw in the ’76 version (even including the comic relief “gettin’ ready for prom” scene).
But even those without a Carrie on their shoulders will feel that this film lacks the gravity it intends. The glossy feel of this Hollywood high school robs Carrie White of her desperation, her classmates of their cruelty, and the climax of its authentic severity. The only place where Carrie does knock its powerful material out of the park is with Julianne Moore, whose Margaret White is so impressively chilling, so embedded in darkness and fear that she’s genuinely difficult to watch. But in the otherwise “campy” world of this Carrie, Margaret and the third act darkness just feels dreadfully unpleasant, and to no identifiable end.
What is Carrie saying and doing with all this horror? Unhooking itself from the clasps of dramatic weight, genre fun, and cinematic tribute, the film floats freely without much of an identity. Although the material is enough to get you through the movie, and the performances decent enough to at least see where a new life might have been breathed into a more inventive script, you won’t leave Carrie without much in the way of answers. Just one big question: “Why did they bother?”