Director: Kimberly Peirce
Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Ansel Elgort, Judy Greer
Length: 99 minutes
If Brian De Palma’s Carrie was the antisocial kid in high school who spent lessons sitting at the back of the classroom drawing grotesque caricatures of his teachers and classmates, wrote violent but humorous short stories in his spare time and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of obscure exploitation flicks then Kimberly Peirce’s Carrie is the annoying goody-goody who sits at the front of class, puts their hand up for every question and always gives answers in the form of textbook regurgitation. This rote adaptation of Stephen King’s first published novel is a largely personality-free affair which reduces De Palma’s sad, darkly funny observations on the inevitable hellishness of high school to a bland, easy to stomach anti-bullying message. While it has a little more substance to it than your average Hollywood horror remake, its reluctance to do anything especially new with the source material and its general tameness in comparison to its predecessor make you wonder whether anyone’s heart was really in it.
A plot which has long been integrated into the classic horror cannon, Carrie is the story of a misfit teenage girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) who spends her school days bullied by her peers and spends her evenings abused by her demented, bible-thumping mother (Julianne Moore). After a particularly distressing incident involving her first period, Carrie finds out that she has telekinetic powers. While genuinely repentant bully Sue (Gabriella Wilde) talks her handsome boyfriend Tommy (Ansel Elgort) into taking Carrie to the prom, the not-so-repentant Chris (Portia Doubleday) deviously plots to ruin Carrie’s magical night. Bloodiness ensues.
There’s no shame in not handling this story as effectively as one of the best horror films of the 1970s did. The problem is that this is a remake which constantly reminds you that time would be better spent with Brian De Palma’s classic – and this is a remake, not just an alternate adaptation of the novel. Lawrence D. Cohen, writer of the 1976 film, is also given a writing credit here as lines are taken straight from his screenplay and inserted into this film with diminished results. Potentially strong cast members like Judy Greer and particularly Julianne Moore are boxed in by a script and a director that seems to demand that they give the same performances as their corresponding actors in De Palma’s original. Before watching this film, I’d never seen a Julianne Moore performance that I hadn’t actively liked but, watching her do her damnedest to creepily ham it up in her scenes, I didn’t even see a Julianne Moore performance; I saw the absence of a Piper Laurie performance. As one of the few characters allowed to have a personality of their own, Ansel Elgort gives a likable turn in his screen debut playing the good-natured, slightly dopey Tommy, who even delivers the one funny line of the film. However, if Moore and Greer were wasted opportunities, Moretz is a flat out miscast. Moretz is at her best when she plays characters that are composed and mature beyond their years. There’s a self-possession about her which would have worked to her advantage had she been cast as one of the bullies. It was predictable that her portrayal of a shy, downtrodden schoolgirl would never rise above the level of mere impression but what’s more disappointing is that she fails to fully convey her character’s rage in the film’s climax.
This is a remake which constantly reminds you that time would be better spent with Brian De Palma’s classic
It’s unfortunate that so much of the blame for this film’s failings has to lie with Boys Don’t Cry director Kimberly Peirce. Granted, the script doesn’t give her a huge amount to work with – its high school dialogue is a little clumsy and its diversions from De Palma’s film work about as often as they don’t – but whereas Brian De Palma’s Carrie is a Brian De Palma film if ever there was one, Peirce’s direction comes across as little more than hackwork. Most of the time, she appears to be entirely going through the motions with her music cues and camerawork as she jumps from one mandatory scene to the next. There are rushed sequences which end abruptly as if she didn’t really want to direct them in the first place. Despite the feminist themes which the story shares with her previous work, I still found myself wondering what attracted Peirce to this project. This is only the second film she’s chosen to make in the last decade, yet she mostly directs without any genuine passion. That being said, things do pick up a little in the climax, despite some questionable decisions made by the script. While there are certainly a few directorial missteps in this section of the film (plus I got the impression that post-Sandy Hook sensitivity was keeping the carnage on a leash), Peirce still delivers what is, on the whole, an impressive spectacle, imbued with a cruel sense of humour which felt missing from the film’s slightly boring first two thirds. Things only truly go downhill again in the hurried last couple of minutes, where we’re treated to a short monologue which serves no purpose other than to hammer in the film’s banal ‘bullying is wrong’ message, before the film ends with a shameless final shot which reduces Carrie to just another horror movie icon to stand alongside Jason Voorhees and Chucky from Child’s Play.
When all is said and done, Kimberly Peirce’s Carrie is a difficult film to hate because it barely even exists on its own. While I’d hardly consider it to be an irredeemable black mark on its director’s short but impressive filmography, that’s only because it doesn’t take enough chances to end up being that awful. I really didn’t want to mention Brian De Palma’s adaptation in this review as frequently as I have but it’s hard to talk about Peirce’s film on its own terms because it makes such little effort to carve out an identity of its own. Remakes which fail to justify their existence are nothing new but it isn’t even clear how Peirce’s Carrie tries to justify its existence.