Margaret White: They’re all going to laugh at you.
More often than not, a remake rehashes old themes and gives a modern take on a story. Sometimes, we see this work quite well, and there is even the rare occasion when the remake can be seen as equal to or better than the original. Unfortunately, for horror fans, a remake usually means a lesser version of something that shouldn’t have been touched to begin with. Kimberly Peirce (STOP-LOSS, BOYS DON’T CRY) has directed an updated version of Stephen King’s CARRIE that lies somewhere between an adaptation and a remake. It is only slightly more truthful to the book than Brian De Palma’s 1976 version, yet it takes many of its cues from his film, rather than the source material itself. Sadly, it isn’t anywhere near as good as either of the sources it pulls from.
Carrie White (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a teenage girl going through a rough adolescence. She is taunted, ridiculed and made fun of because, as King writes in his book, she is a “frog among swans”. Meanwhile, her mother, Margaret (Julianne Moore), is an extreme religious fanatic who has spent her life trying to protect Carrie from the evils of the world, but has effectively caused her daughter more pain than she has salvation. Needless to say, Carrie isn’t very liked in her high school. One day after gym class, Carrie experiences her first period in the communal showers, much to the delight of her evil peers, who take pictures and videos with their phones.
This decision to add modern technology to the story is appropriate, however it doesn’t always work. After being questioned by one of her teachers, Ms. Desjardin (Judy Greer), it is revealed that Carrie’s fellow classmate, Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) is the one who took the video and posted it online. In real life, posting a video of a teenage girl in a shower would constitute as child pornography and most likely lead to expulsion. But since that wouldn’t serve the story here, Chris merely gets a slap on the wrist. Updating this story so that it is relevant to a modern audience is a must but it has to make logistical sense to be taken seriously.
As the humiliation continues, Carrie soon learns that she has a mental ability to move things, called telekinesis, and that despite her mother’s insistence that it is a curse form the devil, Carrie realizes that she just isn’t like other girls, and perhaps even that she is special. On a chance date to the senior prom, her classmates pull a prank on her that goes horribly wrong, which I think I can safely say, we all knew would happen. As Carrie has been developing her skills privately, she takes this opportunity to exact her revenge on the entire senior class in a very public and destructive manner.
Peirce’s decision to cast Moretz in the lead role is probably the first thing this version doesn’t get right. This Carrie is too young looking and is simply just not believable in the role of a young women who is supposed to be dour, chunky and pimple faced. From the very beginning, beautiful and angelic-faced Moretz is unconvincing, especially towards the end when all hell is breaking loose. Moore as Carrie’s mom is nowhere near as frightening as one would expect the character to be. Moore seems to be taking a page from the Piper Laurie acting handbook (Laurie originated the role in 1976), with breathy dialogue and low grumbling moans that exude her Christian disapproval, but she doesn’t quite nail it.
De Palma’s version may have deviated quite a lot from the book but the prom scene makes it all worth it. It’s violent, disturbing and oddly sad. Peirce’s version of the destruction of the school and the town is more or less suitable for television (save for one scene involving the bleachers), and allows the majority of the characters to get out alive. In the book, the death toll is well over 400 as Carrie storms through the town, so to what purpose does this remake serve then? Other than to make money with a trusted commodity, that is.
There are many directions Peirce could have taken with this CARRIE, and with a female perspective, especially this particular one, you would think that you would be able to feel a certain sensitivity towards Carrie, a young, frightened girl, abused by her peers, and going through so many changes she doesn’t fully understand. Instead, Peirce goes an incredibly safe route; she doesn’t take any chances and thus has simply created a remake that is quite far from being scary, and is rather pointless altogether. In the end, safe and horror just do not mix.