Another classic horror film remade, another classic horror film botched by the new modern “twist” that filmmakers these days seem so eager to inject into the genre’s most iconic staples. A little bit of CGI here, and a little less horror here, and sweet little Carrie White is yet another victim of the unfortunate trend.
Director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry, Stop-Loss) took Stephen King’s acclaimed 1974 novel and saw a timelessness in the story of a poor, wounded girl battling high school's heedless cruelties. With bullying gaining ever more spotlight in social politics, she thought Carrie could have an even more resounding impact.
However, what Peirce didn’t realize, which is surprising after directing the heart-wrenching and fragile sensibilities of Boys Don’t Cry (1999), is that it takes more than handing the bullies a phone and a laptop to make the woes of Carrie White of today outshine the Carrie White of 1976.
In fact, Peirce did not intend to fix anything about Brian de Palma’s version. She simply believed she could do something different by “re-imagining” it. Re-imagined it was, but not nearly enough to stand out from its counterpart.
First and foremost, the casting of Chloë Grace-Moretz (Kick-Ass, Let Me In) belies a major component that drives both King and de Palma’s protagonists: the tangible and eerie darkness that lingers just below the surface of this meek, lost girl. While, yes, it’s easy to complain that just because you gave a pretty movie star frizzy hair doesn’t make her a high school outcast, her fault goes far beyond that.
In the DVD extras, Peirce and Moretz explain how intimate it was for Moretz to play this part at her age because she herself was facing problems with bullies in real life “for being rich and famous.”
While I am in no way discounting how alienating it must be to be a celebrity, and a child celebrity at that, it makes complete and utter sense why there is a vast disconnect between Chloe and Carrie. If there is a bridge to close the gap between the plights of the rich and famous and the plights of the abused and poor, Moretz unfortunately didn’t make it across. Being tortuously bullied at school while being under the obsessively protective arm of a sociopathic mother proves much more debilitating than just shrugging, shuffling, and pouting your undeniably sexy lips. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Moretz believed to be true.
Even if Moretz was a “reimagined” Carrie, it is nearly impossible to unimagine what Sissy Spacek brought to the role: oddity, discomfort and otherworldliness. There is no saying that you need to have had the exact experience of a character to play them, but Moretz simply didn’t bring the chops to prove that point.
Speaking of a sociopathic mother, Julianne Moore’s take on Margaret White is a brief glimpse of light in the darkness—or perhaps she’s the only bit of darkness in the all too light nature of Peirce’s adaptation. Moore (Magnolia, Big Lebowski, The Hours) brings the quiet uneasiness that horror films are meant to evoke. While her daughter looks all too meek and never menacing, even when she’s murdering her entire class, Mrs. White lingers in the shadows with her sins, doubts and self-defamations. Like Carrie, we squirm at her presence; but unlike Carrie, we’d prefer to see more of her.
We don’t, unfortunately, mostly because Peirce riddles the entire film with a substandard ensemble. Even the ever-wonderful Judy Greer ("Arrested Development," "Archer") finds herself in the awkward role of the supportive yet oddly tyrannical gym teacher. The bullies are everything we’ve seen before, and it seems as though their deaths were far less satisfying than they should have been. Perhaps it was the cultish enthusiasm of fake blood and quasi-cheesy visual effects that made De Palma’s version so unforgettable, but Peirce’s modernization becomes boring and perhaps too normal for such an abnormal story.
Surely it will only be another five years before someone else decides to take on the deliciously terrifying story of Carrie White. Until then, however, let’s hold tight to the Carrie of 1976.
Carrie is now available for purchase on Blu-ray and DVD.
Read our INTERVIEW with Chloë Grace Moretz.