The 2013 Carrie remake once again follows the titular Carrie White (Chloë Grace Moretz) a shy and awkward teenage girl who is routinely bullied and ostracized by classmates. Sheltered by her overbearing, and extremely religious, mother Margaret (Julianne Moore), Carrie longs for the “normal life” of the other kids at Thomas Ewen Consolidated High School.
But Carrie isn’t normal, and after discovering that she possesses telekinetic powers, she begins to develop a new-found confidence that causes tension between her and a popular clique of girls led by Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) and Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde). Rebelling against her mother’s control, and extreme Christian beliefs, Carrie decides to attend the school prom with cool kid Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort), setting the stage for a memorable night of dancing and violent revenge.
Given the success of Brian De Palma’s adaptation, starring Sissy Spacek (and featuring a pre-Saturday Night Fever John Travolta), a lot of moviegoers have been skeptical about Carrie (2013) – especially considering the latest iteration follows closer to that 1976 original instead of the actual novel source material. As a result, it’s fair to say that Carrie is a true remake, not an extensive reimagining that seeks to be more faithful to Stephen King’s version of fictional events. Still, director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) manages to present a worthwhile, albeit arguably unneeded, retelling of the Carrie White story – strengthened by modern visual effects and a great performance from Chloë Grace Moretz in the titular role. The latest Carrie film isn’t going to win the same accolades as the first one (which led to Oscar nominations for both Spacek and Piper Laurie) but it’s an entertaining and oftentimes competent update for anyone who isn’t already, on principle, off put by remakes – particularly ones that hew so close to the celebrated original.
Peirce’s iteration once again skips some of the more complicated (and convenient) elements of the novel material, most notably in the third act, in favor of telling a straightforward narrative about a girl that is constantly oppressed and ridiculed – until she discovers the (malevolent) power to fight back. Beyond updating the setting for contemporary moviegoers with YouTube and video phones, Peirce along with screenwriters Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa as well as Lawrence D. Cohen attempt to inject fresh subtext into the mix. Some of the additions succeed but, at the same time, leave less of the runtime for elements that were instrumental in De Palma’s movie. Therefore, the Carrie (2013) story presents the same effective and heart-breaking character arc, with some new angles for returning viewers to ponder, but without major deviations to raise the remake into the number one spot.
Moretz is a solid Carrie, balancing reverence to the role while also injecting subtleties that make her version of the horror movie icon distinct (and slightly more intimidating). Moretz effortlessly sells all three sides of the Carrie character – transition in and out of a terrified victim, cautiously empowered young woman, and iconic (not to mention blood-soaked) killer. Certain viewers will prefer one version over another, but Moretz delivers in several key moments – successfully capturing the genuine hopefulness and raw terror that make the fundamental Carrie story so powerful. Of course, the actress is aided in this undertaking by contemporary special effects and, even though some of the visuals come across as “budgeted” in certain shots (with a few slightly awkward disconnects between practical and CGI images) the character, as well as Moretz, comes across as even more menacing than before.
Peirce also digs a bit deeper into the relationship between Carrie and her mother Margaret, played by Moore, which is both a strength and sometimes a setback for the film. Unsurprisingly, Moore embraces the character wholeheartedly with a capable and disturbing performance that pairs well with Moretz (and the larger character story). Still, despite positioning Margaret as a delusional relic from a by-gone era, Peirce’s take on the christian fundamentalist character often slides dangerously close to caricature territory.
Much like in De Palma’s film, and the source book, the majority of supporting characters are relegated to one-note plot points that merely serve as touchstones for Carrie’s development – and fall into very familiar high school cliches. Gabriella Wilde and Portia Doubleday are both adequate at the extremes, as the remorseful Sue Snell and conniving Chris Hargensen, respectively. Judy Greer is a smart fit for Carrie’s confidant and gym teacher Miss Desjardin – a character that gets a more prominent role this round and is smartly juxtaposed with the clueless Principle Morton (portrayed by Barry Shabaka Henley).
Finally, despite a likable turn from Ansel Elgort, the script somewhat muddles the Tommy Ross character – as, in an effort to make the character estimable while also playing off his interest in Carrie at the dance, the writers subsequently convolute his arc. Given that most of the characters rely heavily on thin teenage tropes, side stories are mostly included for the purpose of advancing the narrative but a few, like Tommy, get saddled with too many layers and become a distraction rather than inspired reimagining.
Filmgoers who are not interested in seeing a modern remake of Carrie are equally unlikely to be won-over by Peirce’s effort – since it tells (mostly) the same story without dramatically improving anything but the onscreen visuals. Nevertheless, for viewers who are open to the remake, the assembled cast and crew manage to accomplish their goal of updating the still timely Carrie storyline with a more intense (and gory) retelling of events for the contemporary movie market. While it might not have been necessary, the Carrie remake is still an adept, entertaining, and at times downright haunting, piece of filmmaking.
If you’re still on the fence about Carrie, check out the trailer below:
Carrie runs 99 minutes and is Rated R for bloody violence, disturbing images, language and some sexual content. Now playing in theaters.
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