There’s nothing particularly wrong with director Kimberly Peirce’s update, but it adds nothing to the 1976 Brian De Palma classic
If there’s any lasting cultural impact to this latest film adaptation of Stephen King’s “Carrie,” it’s that it confirms the material’s status as an archetypal mythos. Like the Passion Play and “A Christmas Carol,” this is the kind of engrained fable that gets told over and over again, even when almost everyone in the audience knows every beat of the plot.
The story has become a touchstone to generations of misfits and outsiders; in between its two big-screen versions, it spawned a movie sequel (“The Rage: Carrie 2”), a small-screen adaptation written by Bryan Fuller (“Hannibal”) and even an infamous Broadway musical.
There will be more versions of “Carrie” in the years to come, and perhaps one of them will rival Brian De Palma’s 1976 film as a portrait of adolescent outsider-dom and as a purely terrifying piece of horror cinema. This new one is neither; it doesn’t do anything strikingly wrong, it’s just unnecessary.
Any hope that director Kimberly Peirce might inflect the material with the gender insight of “Boys Don’t Cry” or the working-class ethos of “Stop-Loss” is quickly dispelled. It’s one thing to respect the source material, but something else entirely to waver from it so little.
De Palma’s screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen shares credit here with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, a scribe whose teen angst bona fides have been established everywhere from “Glee” to Archie Comics, but apart from some references to YouTube and home-schooling, you’d be hard-pressed to find much difference between the two scripts.
So it’s a story you already know, told in a way you’ll recognize: Sweet, shy Carrie (Chloë Grace Moretz) is tormented by the popular girls at school and abused at home by her unhinged evangelist mother (Julianne Moore). Prom date, pig’s blood, dirty pillows, second verse same as the first.
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It’s up to the actors to try to make this their own, but none of them fill the shoes of their Me Decade predecessors. Moretz probably comes closest to capturing Sissy Spacek’s blossoming into womanhood, although Moretz is less convincing as a misunderstood wallflower. Unlike Spacek, she has been directed to find excitement and possibilities in her newly manifesting telekinetic powers, resulting in a Carrie who feels at least a little more in control of her destiny.
Moore, as talented is she is, can’t rival Piper Laurie’s Bible-thumping gorgon in either terror or ecstasy, although her version of the character provides more opportunities for bloody self-mortification. Judy Greer is, as always, a standout as the sympathetic gym teacher.
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As for the school’s popular kids — well, not to go all Norma Desmond, but they had faces then. Audiences seeing the De Palma version were, generally speaking, seeing Amy Irving, William Katt, Nancy Allen, P.J. Soles and John Travolta for the first time, and those actors immediately registered in the public consciousness. I would have a hard time picking their modern counterparts out of a police lineup; they all have the bland, interchangeable attractiveness of stars from the CW network.
It’s not that this 2013 “Carrie” embarrasses itself — they’re not all going to laugh at you — but it’s destined to be, at best, a footnote to its forebears.