Kimberly Peirce’s Carrie takes Brian De Palma’s original masterpiece of sublime tension and character development and strips it of all its pathos and thrills, until we’re left with nothing more than an unnecessary scene-for-scene remake. For what conceivable reason anyone thought it a good idea to re-imagine one of the most notable works of a director who was once compared to Hitchcock is beyond me. I thought Peirce might have learned a lesson from Gus Van Sant.
The story is the same this time around, and needs little explanation. Carrie White is still a teen, pretty but guarded, and is still tormented by the same group of bitchy high school girls. We get a brief rehash of the shower menstruation scene (“Plug it up!” the girls cry, as they cruelly throw tampons at Carrie) that runs roughshod over the theme of emerging womanhood in favor of a hasty segue to Carrie’s mother, Margaret White. A religious zealot of biblical proportions, Margaret verbally and physically abuses her daughter in the name of God and the hope of washing away her own sins. As Carrie’s peers continue their torment, she finds solace in the kindly gym teacher, Mrs. Desjardin (Judy Greer), and former mean girl, Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde), who tries to right her wrongs by convincing her jock boyfriend to ask Carrie to the prom.
If you’ve ever seen the original film or read Stephen King’s masterful debut novel of the same name, then you of course know that Carrie discovers she has the gift (or curse) of telekinesis, a power that tends to manifest itself when she’s stressed or angry. One of the mean girls plans a prank at the prom and… well, you know what happens next. Everybody knows what happens next. The Pope knows what happens next.
All of this is unnecessary. You could watch any scene from Peirce’s film at random and realize you’ve seen the exact same thing before, and done far better, which begs the question why you wouldn’t just watch the original. It’s like passing on a slab of prime rib for a slice of fatty skirt steak. Unfortunately, the performances don’t help things much. Chloë Grace Moretz is serviceable as Carrie, and Portia Doubleday manages to bring a little menace to the villainous Chris Hargensen, but Julianne Moore, one of the most gifted actresses on the planet, is miscast as Margaret. She plays the entire role from first frame to last on static, offering almost no range to what rightfully should be a dynamic, pathological character, and eliminating vital dramatic tension between her and her daughter.
Tension is missing throughout Carrie, so much so that there’s no buildup to what is likely one of the most famous climaxes in cinema history. Where De Palma’s prom scene electrified with style, sound, and fury, Peirce’s vision settles for bombast and modern special effects. The scene is also woefully cut short, as things move to an unnecessarily protracted showdown between Carrie, Hargensen, and Hargensen’s delinquent boyfriend, Billy Nolan, and then dwindle to a final confrontation between mother and daughter.
Peirce is a gifted filmmaker; after all, this is the same person who directed Hilary Swank to an Academy Award in the remarkable Boys Don’t Cry. But Carrie simply isn’t a good example of her considerable talents. Is it fair to scrutinize her work so deeply by comparing it to De Palma’s original? I think so. De Palma’s film is widely regarded as a masterwork, and I think when you take on a project like this, you have to be prepared to defend yourself against that kind of pedigree. That being said, here’s to hoping Peirce recovers from this misstep and brings something great in the future.