Carrie’s premise, a bullied young outcast (Chloë Grace Moretz) with telekinetic gifts pushed to breaking point in the bubbling cauldron of high school, is as relevant today as it’s ever been.
The risk comes from the fact that, as told in Stephen King’s novel and Brian De Palma’s film, it’s not just a story that people love; it’s a story that people have a strong emotional connection with.
Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) was an great choice to take this on, as demonstrated with a brutally effective new opening. From the shot of Margaret White’s (Julianne Moore) broken water on a Bible as she howls to God about her “cancer,” it’s obvious that Peirce is not playing scared. The 1976 film was hardly restrained and this update is just as heightened.
This energy continues through a strong first half. The big scenes are well-staged and affecting, the wonderful Judy Greer is perfectly cast as the sharply sympathetic Miss Desjardin, and the nightmare that is the White household is convincingly brought to life with a welcome greater focus on Margaret.
As the film progresses, things start to fray as Peirce starts playing safer. Despite an excellent, moving performance, Moretz never quite feels right as Carrie. Moore spends the entire film dancing on the edge of outrageousness, almost the only nod to the dark humour of the original. Carrie’s schoolmates are lifeless and bland, particularly the villainous duo of Chris Hargensen and Billy Nolan. Of the supporting characters, only Ansel Elgort’s amiable Tommy Ross impresses.
The time spent away from Carrie is time wasted as Moretz nails the excitement and terror at her burgeoning powers. It’s Moretz that keeps us invested during a misjudged final third that sadly fails to match the visceral impact of De Palma’s film. There’s some ill-advised CGI and Carrie’s actions feel far too considered, lacking the impact of Sissy Spacek’s wide-eyed, reactive rage.
Despite the lacklustre ending Peirce’s film is too thoughtful to be written off. It’s caught in an awkward middle ground; too faithful to surprise, while some minor changes backfire. As a teen horror, it’s an interesting, occasionally gripping, flawed but solid enough. As a remake, it’s a little disappointing.