Director Kimberly Peirce’s thriller about a bullied young woman who pushes back… hard.
When high school senior Carrie White (Chloë Grace Moretz) experiences her first period in the gym class shower at school, the other girls make fun of the young woman’s fear and ridicule her. The sheltering by her mother Margaret (Julianne Moore) has left Carrie unprepared for a harsh world, constantly being pelted with the fanatical teachings of a God-fearing woman who judges everything through the lens of a Bible. When Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) guiltily convinces her boyfriend Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort) to take Carrie to the prom to make up for her part in the showers, disgraced queen bee Chris (Portia Doubleday) and her abusive boyfriend Billy (Alex Russell) take it upon themselves to “teach Carrie a lesson” – just before the running and screaming and dying begins.
While many scenes and lines appear virtually identical to the 1976 version, the skew of this remake is different. Unlike De Palma’s templated monster movie, Peirce’s dramatic thriller casts Carrie as a bullied victim pushed too far, and the deserving who earn her wrath are made to feel the brunt of it. While Sue Snell was the central character in 1976, the title character takes center stage with Chloë Moretz not only stepping up to Sissy Spacek’s performance but exceeding it, enhanced in no small way by Julianne Moore’s performance as Carrie’s mother. While the special effects are certainly a step up from the 1970s, the exemplary cast of this new film and a noticeably tighter script turn this Carrie into a misunderstood martyr instead of an irredeemable monster.
Chloë Moretz brings her A-game in a nuanced performance of the title character. From wallflower to prom queen to dark goddess, the actress believably portrays a young woman coming into her own with a terrible power but never becoming a bad person – even when she does terrible things. In a very different take from the Spacek version, Moretz doesn’t stand around looking bug-eyed and possessed; it’s Carrie in there, in control, and feeling perfectly justified in letting her rage seethe a bit. The buildup to the prom scene makes you feel all tingly inside; you can almost hear a stewardess instructing you to return your trays to an upright and locked position. Moretz unleashes Carrie’s vengeance like a demoness conducting an orchestra of death, choosing her targets rather than killing aimlessly; it’s difficult not to sympathize with her satisfaction as the body count begins to rise. Keep in mind that Sissy Spacek portrayed this high school senior while in her mid-twenties (as did much of the supporting 1976 cast), while Chloë Moretz is actually younger than the character’s age and all the more amazing for it.
Julianne Moore’s Margaret White takes a darker turn – who knew, right? – than her 1976 counterpart, a woman of self-loathing who thumps her Bible into her daughter’s head when she’s not physically punishing herself like a Flagellant monk. When Carrie rebels, the tone shifts as she takes control; Margaret is reduced to a prisoner in her own home, but she still pleads with her daughter to renounce Satan’s power. Carrie deeply loves her mother in spite of the abuse – something that plays into the conclusion more clearly than in the De Palma version – and, deep down, seeks to be a good person even when she’s at her most vengeful. With found feminity and adult empowerment coupled with themes of intolerant bullying and the need for human compassion, this version hones its dramatic elements to emotional effect rather than fall back on a slasher film template. Just to be fair, however, it’s no less satisfying to watch these self-absorbed little trolls get exactly what they deserve.
(a four skull recommendation out of four)