A lot of moviegoers were outraged at the idea of making a second movie version of Stephen King’s novel Carrie. I understand the attachment to Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation, but I don’t remember the same outrage greeting the 1988 Broadway musical version of Carrie or the 1999 movie sequel The Rage: Carrie 2 or the 2002 made-for-TV version. Clearly, the new film version won’t replace De Palma’s movie. However, partly because it’s made by a woman, it has some interesting corners of its own.
Chloë Grace Moretz stars as the high-school girl who discovers that she can move things with her mind. The new version is written by Lawrence D. Cohen (who adapted the 1976 movie, too) and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. They apply some contemporary touches to this story — when Carrie panics in the gym shower after her first period, someone films the girls throwing tampons at her and posts the video on YouTube — and provide more layered characterizations of the bullying girls. The filmmaker behind Boys Don’t Cry, Kimberly Peirce has become notorious for her trouble getting projects into theaters. She is multifariously talented, but unfortunately, she’s weak with the supernatural. Carrie’s gradual discovery of her gift doesn’t elicit either wonder or horror.
She’s better at casting this thing. Newcomer Ansel Elgort manages the difficult task of making Tommy Ross (the nice boy who takes Carrie to the prom) interesting, and Judy Greer slots in perfectly as the sympathetic gym teacher. As Carrie’s religious maniac mother, Julianne Moore isn’t as hellbent as Piper Laurie was in the first movie, but the flickers of motherly love that peek through her forbidding exterior are disturbing nonetheless, and she’s downright frightening when she turns her religious hatred on herself. The first time we see Carrie disobey her, her mom reacts by repeatedly slamming her own head into a wall until her daughter begs for God’s forgiveness.
As for Carrie herself, the part probably needed somebody weirder and more intense than Moretz. With Sissy Spacek’s Carrie, you understood why the other kids instinctively recoiled from her. Nevertheless, the lead actress does well by Carrie’s need for love and acceptance, and she becomes genuinely scary during the massacre at the prom, when she kills her tormentors by gesturing with her arms, like a dancer performing her dreams of vengeance and making them come true.
De Palma’s Carrie has become the ur-text of every supernatural horror flick with a bullied main character, and it has spawned better ones than this movie: Let the Right One In, Chronicle, and Lucky McKee’s sadly neglected 2002 slasher flick May. Nevertheless, if you take it on its own (a difficult thing to do, I know), Peirce’s Carrie is a fair piece of camp tragedy, way more thoughtful than most of the horror movies that pass through our multiplexes.