From the first teaser trailer for Carrie, I couldn’t help but wonder why anyone would feel the need to remake this film. The 1976 version of Stephen King’s novel is not only a classic, it’s iconic. Referenced visually and verbally, Carrie is possibly as much a part of our pop culture as prom itself. Nonetheless, a morbid curiosity drew me to the theater anyway.
In case you somehow made it through the last 37 years without at least hearing about Carrie, the film tells the story of Carrie White (Chloë Grace Moretz), a shy high school senior raised by her single mother, Margaret (Julianne Moore), an overbearing religious zealot, and pretty much shunned by her peers. When Carrie gets her first period during gym class and the other girls get in trouble for taunting her horribly, the queen bee, Chris (Portia Doubleday), sets out to get revenge. Meanwhile, another popular girl, Sue (Gabriella Wilde), feels guilty and convinces her boyfriend, Tommy (Ansel Elgort), to take Carrie to the prom. The rest is history.
I tried not to compare 2013’s Carrie to 1976’s Carrie, especially as I started to realize that it wasn’t a frame-by-frame remake, but remaking such a classic movie begs the comparison. The most glaring difference between the two films is probably the casting of the title character. It’s really, seriously difficult to believe that Chloë Grace Moretz has been insecure a day in her life, not only because she’s a knockout, but also because she’s made a career of playing confident young women. At times you can kind of see Moretz channeling Sissy Spacek’s body language from the original, but she’s never really as believable as an overly-sheltered, painfully shy girl. Still, there are elements of this Carrie that I think worked really well. In this film, Margaret White’s darkness is played up as the narrative focuses frequently on her physically hurting herself in her religious fervor. She is both more frightening and more affectionate than the original Margaret, which I found made her relationship with Carrie more complicated and interesting. In general, this version of the film is nicer. There’s less nudity, less slapping. Sue and Tommy seem like earnestly nice kids, and when Carrie goes to the prom, the film starts to feel like a romantic comedy. By contrast, Chris just looks like more of a sociopath than a mean high schooler. Maybe it’s the legacy of prom makeover movies like Never Been Kissed (which paid homage to Carrie) and She’s All That, but in that pivotal scene it becomes easy to believe that things could work out for Carrie. The whole tone is far less ominous. I had thought that this softer side would make the disastrous pig blood scene hurt all the more. By this point, I kind of liked Tommy and Sue, and Carrie seemed to be blossoming.
The ending, however, turns the movie into Carrie for Dummies. I had feared that the use of social media in the film would be overdone, but in general, the use of smart phones and social media is used only in a way that makes the narrative more current. But then, in the big prom scene, the video of the opening locker room scene comes back to mess things up. While in 1976, audiences were set up to draw connections between Carrie’s menstrual blood and the pig’s blood, this film hits you over the head with the connection. Further, opting for witchy arm movements rather than eerie stillness, Moretz plays the scene with so much confidence and control that I started to blame Carrie, especially as this version makes the ending bloodier and more vengeful. The last straw, however, was how this film turned the bizarre final scene into a moment to moralize about how the popular kids were complicit in what happened to Carrie. In case you missed it, this is a story with a complicated moral about popularity. In this post-Mean Girls era, the changes to the ending felt incredibly trite.
Although Julianne Moore is amazing and I thought the lighter tone of the film worked, up to the prom, I never really stopped wondering why this film was made. Like Sue, Chris, and Tommy, the creators of this remake probably should have just let things be. I rate Carrie 2.5/5 stars.
Carrie was written by Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, based on the novel by Stephen King. It was directed by Kimberly Peirce and runs 100 minutes. Rated R for bloody violence, disturbing images, language and some sexual content.