For a gal named Carrie White, she's sure got a lot of red on her.
Watching Kimberly Peirce's 'Carrie' is an odd experience. If you've seen Brian De Palma's version from 1976, this new version is - and there's really no point in denying this - like watching a cover band. There's a tweaked scene here and there (including a new, creepy-as-heck opening) plus the addition of cell phones and references to 'Dancing With The Stars.' This remake, more than most, really feels like hitting the same marks. It may be a peculiarity specific to 'Carrie,' because, let's face it, not a whole heck of a lot happens in this story. Considering most moviegoers' familiarity, there's plenty of room to stew and think, "Why is this considered such a classic?"
There's definitely something in the pig's blood of Stephen King's tale of bullying, religious fanaticism, telekinesis and menstruation. It's simple steps are iconic. The terrified girl in the shower, openly mocked as her growth into womanhood manifests itself all over the tile floor. The tiny closet festooned with religious iconography acts as a mad grasp by her insane mother to turn the clock back on her daughter's maturation. The prom stage, like a Hawthornian scaffold from which vengeance rains down on the guilty and innocent alike.
That the vengeance comes from wholly unexplained super-powers is less of the problem in the 70's version, for some reason. This time the special effects throughout look alarmingly cheap and the music sounds canned. And, shouldn't Julianne Moore (taking Piper Laurie's role as the Holy Roller mother) be sinking her teeth into this with a little more gusto? Indeed, the spaces in which 'Carrie' can ruminate on the big honkin' archetypes are a double-edged sword. The leisurely pace makes it difficult to hide the imperfections.
Then there's Chloe G. Moretz, in a role quite different from what we've seen her in before. As either Hit Girl in the 'Kick-Ass' films or the vampire from 'Let Me In' (or even the gal in 'Hugo') she's always the strong, protective one. In 'Carrie,' from the very first shots of her quivering beneath a towel, she grabs our sympathies. Call me crazy, but she's even more sympathetic as Carrie because (and bear with me here) Moretz is not yet that talented of a performer.
Calling out “bad acting” is always such a subjective thing. To me, when I feel like I can see the choices a performer is making, that's a red flag. We should never be cognizant of and actor thinking, "I have to do this thing with my face here to express the sentiments my character is supposed to be feeling." It should just flow and, in this film, Moretz doesn't flow. And yet – maybe just because I am a caring person – I found myself doubly endeared with Moretz's Carrie, and wanted her to somehow find happiness among those mean girls.
Are Moretz and Peirce meta-textual geniuses, evoking an emotional response in me through non-traditional means? No, I'm sure they're not. I'm sure this is just a case of a film's flaw. But, hey, whatever works, works, and it led me feel 100% engaged with the doomed would-be Prom Queen when it came time for her to assault the townspeople with fiery revenge.
As a straight-up horror film, 'Carrie' doesn't have too many scares that'll make an audience gasp, nor are there all that many gross-outs. What it does have, however, is a psychological ick factor. There's a sadness in watching Carrie's classmates choose cruelty over kindness. Moreover, there's hardly any effort put into suggesting that a bloody conclusion isn't the "right" choice. That we're all so eager to cheer along is something of a different kind of horror.
‘Carrie’ is in theaters now.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.