"Carrie" Remake Capably Carries Torch For Original

Good horror remakes are harder to come by than survivors in a “Friday The 13th” film. Reworkings of classics like “Halloween” have only served to tarnish the legacy of their source material, with the vast majority of these “re-imaginings” suffering from A) pointlessness and B) awfulness. They’re pale imitations of movies that found an audience on their own merit – cinematic coattail-riders. So it’s a pleasant surprise when one comes along that’s not downright terrible.

Director Kimberly Peirce’s “Carrie” remake is certainly perfunctory – at times, it’s a verbatim redo of Brian De Palma’s 1976 original – but it’s a mostly competent film that manages to not desecrate the memory its predecessor. It’s at its best when it’s diverting from and expanding upon the 1976 film – with a couple notable exceptions – but even its weak points rise above mere simulacrum thanks to a committed cast and crew.

While Chloe Grace Moretz’s performance in “Carrie” isn’t her finest – she struggles greatly with the character’s initial timidity – her casting is essential as not to try to replicate Sissy Spacek’s iconic performance. Moretz’s screen presence is far more charming and relatable, creating an emotional connection with the character that wasn’t there before. As much as the remake apes the staging of the original, the filmmakers were wise to not try to tap into the schlocky 70s vibe that made it the voyeuristic freak show that it was.

The first act is the picture’s weakest, with writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa mostly going through the motions. The film’s prologue is new, but what follows is overly familiar. Carrie’s mother, Margaret White (Julianne Moore), is a deranged religious fanatic who’s somehow managed to raise a halfway normal teenage girl. Carrie is overly demure but whip-smart – not the uber-naïve, borderline brainwashed girl that Spacek played. When some classmates mock Carrie, she begins to channel her anger into something supernatural.

Oddly, the credits don’t acknowledge De Palma – only Stephen King’s novel and Lawrence Cohen’s script – which is more than a little disingenuous as the pic rips pages upon pages from De Palma’s playbook. There are even nods to the original’s framing, most notably when gym teacher Ms. Desjardin (a miscast Judy Greer) scolds her students for their bullying. From there, the perps divide into factions. The contrite Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) decides to make things right with Carrie, while Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) chooses to double down on her cruelty.

The film does well in correcting a handful of its forerunner’s shortcomings. Gone are the ripped-from-“Psycho” music cues. Carrie’s prom date – Sue’s boyfriend, Tommy (Ansel Elgort) – is less of a stereotype, more of a genuinely sweet guy. Moore’s take on Margaret isn’t as gloriously whacked out as Piper Laurie’s was (which fit that film), but more like an actual person, given several moments of normality. And most importantly, Peirce and company elaborate on the film’s famous climax, no longer glossing over the fate of Chris and her boyfriend.

As expected, the use of CGI detracts from the picture’s primary setpiece. De Palma’s staging of the prom sequence remains a knockout to this day, a whirling dervish of practical effects and a brilliantly creepy performance by Spacek. But what the remake’s use of CGI lacks in tact, it adds in spectacle, providing for a few wonderfully gory kills. It’s unlikely that Carrie’s telekinesis was limited by technical limitations in Stephen King’s imagination, so it’s satisfying to see the sequence imagined on a larger scale.

Although most of the screenplay’s tweaks are for the positive – if only to assuage predictability – a boneheaded change-up in the pic’s final moments detracts from the scene’s impact. More so, the final, singular jump scare – one that would go on to be plagiarized by the first “Friday The 13th” film – is absent, leaving the story to peter out rather than resolve.

No, there’s no great reason for this iteration of “Carrie” to exist. But it’s watchable enough to justify its own existence, providing a few interesting angles to King’s story that had yet to be explored. It’s disappointing that so little of the original’s spirit is present here – e.g. Pino Donaggio’s gorgeous “Theme From Carrie” is nowhere to be found – but it’s a loss that’s probably for the best. Period specific atmosphere is nigh impossible to reproduce, and there’s enough familiarity in the screenplay that the film’s differences are necessary to distance it from De Palma’s film.

Dialogue aside, Kimberly Peirce’s “Carrie” is its own thing, featuring a very different but worthy take on its title character. Despite a similar running time, the story moves along at a quicker pace, Julianne Moore is as always a joy to watch, and Stephen King’s tale of alienation and angst is just as poignant as ever. It’s a small miracle that the picture doesn’t lean too heavily on one particular topic du jour – bullying – and a major miracle that it’s a respectable film, to boot.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Okay)

Release Date: October 18, 2013
Studio: Screen Gems (Sony)
Director: Kimberly Peirce
Screenwriter: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Judy Greer, Portia Doubleday, Alex Russell, Gabriella Wilde, Ansel Elgort, Julianne Moore
MPAA Rating: R (for bloody violence, disturbing images, language and some sexual content)