The 2013 re-make of Carrie starts out strongly. It is a mini-prologue of sorts and it works on all levels: it is creepy, it pushes the boundaries of what we as a viewer are comfortable seeing even in the jaded 2013, and for a brief three minutes, you actually believe that this new play on the classic teen psycho-horror-drama will be worth the ride. That hope extends ever so fleetingly into the proper first scene of the film, where Carrie White and her classmates are playing volleyball in the pool, their teen crotches jumping up and down in pristine, sterilized water, and as the camera closes in on Carrie’s, you cannot help but think: THIS is how IT is going to happen this time around, THIS is where Carrie will get her first period, and an uncomfortable sense of creeped-out-joy to come washes over you. You can almost see the shot: a sliver of red infecting the pool, the perfect little teenage bodies ALL being touched by it, the premonition of things to come. But it doesn’t. That moment never happens and no moments approaching anything close-to-that effectiveness wise make it anywhere near the screen. What could have served as a perfect setting-of-stage for a riskier, more sexualized CARRIE, ends up being a setting-of-stage for what we end up getting: a cop out, a paint-by-the-numbers remake that we didn’t need. I am a huge fan of the 1976 original (I apologize for now writing about the original, but it is UNAVOIDABLE to do so). I remember being a kid, reading the book, then watching the movie thinking that I WILL NOT get scared because I ALREADY KNOW WHAT IS COMING, and yet still freaking out at every corner of it. I have not been able to see a Piper Laurie movie since because her Carrie’s mother is permanently etched in my memory. But, lets face it, the key to the success there was Sissy Spacek. Brian De Palma cast a fresh faced, translucent skinned grown up (Spacek was 26, and a former Texas homecoming queen) in the role of a frightened 17 year old, and it was a gamble that paid off. The scariest part of Carrie is that hell, despite what you’ve been told by your insane Mother, is actually and truly, OTHER PEOPLE, and – in that sense, it is the most relatable of scares. Spacek does very little in terms of showiness (that is fully left to Laurie). All she needs to say is done in her posture (has there ever been an actress who looked quite so breakable?) and those eyes. The prom is all about the eyes. Those big, wide, afraid-yet-mad pools of watercolor blue becoming larger than her, than that night, than life. That spareness, in the middle of the gore, is what made the original unforgettable. The new version doesn’t take that road, and, I am sad to say that Chloe Grace Moretz is not a wise or good enough actress to pull that level of subtlety. While we’re still in basic bullied teen waters she does a nice enough job being young and awkward, but her frame is too athletic, her lips too Scarlett Johansson-y, her hair almost too fakely plain for any of it too seem truly believable. Then, once what was bound to happen happens (remember: no surprises here), she goes into this weird show-y almost-magician-like mode, all angles and dramatic hand gestures that just seem …. well, it ALL just seems too much. You can almost hear the instructions to Moretz off screen: “And now, once again… but with more… INTENSITY”. And she, sadly, listened. We are no longer inside of a brain of a teenage girl, we are on stage with Criss Angell, so we detach.
I also hate to say this (because I AM a fan otherwise) but I blame Kimberly Pierce for it. The woman who brought out the best in Hilary Swank and Chloe Sevigny in Boys Don’t Cry should know better. This, granted, was a risky project all along, but you get a feeling that she just caved every step of the way – compromising with the studio, pandering to the mass public, not taking any chances you, the viewer, know she has in her, and compromising her lead in this almost circus-y way. Which is a shame, because the rest of the cast is doing a great job. Julianne Moore steps into Margaret White’s shoes (previously filled by Laurie, and then Patricia Clarkson in the 2002 TV remake, which I actually recommend a little more than this one, mainly on account of Angela Bettis, the girl you may remember as May, who approaches Spacek levels of scary vulnerability). Moore obviously is a fabulous actress, and she takes what in 2013 seems like a religious freak caricature, and imbues it with a raw undercurrent that feels almost painful to watch at times. Judy Greer is well cast Miss Desjardin, the rare voice of sanity but the cake goes to Portia Doubleday as Chris Hargensen, the #1 Carrie tormentor. Doubleday was previously seen as the object of Michael Cera’s affection in Youth in Revolt and here commands the screen every second she is there. Her bronzed, skinny-limbed, saucer-eyed high school psycho is one of the more effective villains I’ve seen this year. As she builds up to her final act, and meets her pretty spectacular end, she is never not the vision of selfish, entitled high school pariah was (thankfully) not part of OUR educational experience. Regina George and Heather Chandler have nothing on this one. Keep an eye out for her. But, in the end, it is a pretty play-by-play kind of remake (dirty pillow references and all), and if the 1976 version was not a movie that held up so well (even the clothes in it have come full circle and seem current enough), maybe there was a reason to reboot it. But 1976 is still as scary as all hell and all teenage girls, frankly, just didn’t need this (I know I said it at the start of this review, but it bears repeating). Next year, Hollywood, please bring us a movie we WANT TO invite to the Halloween dance with us.