NB: these are my notes on the film, not a review – so you might not want to read them if you’ve not seen it yet.
There was a TV miniseries remake of Carrie in 2002, with Angela Bettis and Patricia Clarkson … not to mention Katt Shea’s The Rage: Carrie 2, with Emily Bergl as a hitherto-unmentioned sister of Stephen King’s (and Brian DePalma’s) Carrie White. So this redo of DePalma’s 1976 adaptation – the original screenwriter (Lawrence D. Cohen) gets a co-writing credit with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa since so much of his script is just reused – isn’t exactly unprecedented. For obvious reasons, none of the screen Carries are fat, spotty and stupid in the way that the novel’s antiheroine is (you have to look to a young Pauline Quirke in Nigel Kneale’s ‘Special Offer’ for a telekinetic who looks like King’s character – though that TV play was aired before the book came out). Chloe Grace Moretz is at least closer in age to the character (in fact, she’s a little younger) than actresses previously cast in the role, though all the baggy clothes and downcast looks can’t disguise how classically beautiful she is whereas Sissy Spacek at least projected a weird freckled spookiness that made her a credible outsider.
Director Kimberly Pierce made Boys Don’t Cry, which would seem to suit her for a different, more raw take on the material that seems to be promised by a new-made opening in which Margaret White (Julianne Moore) painfully gives birth alone, seemingly not aware she was pregnant just the way her daughter won’t know what menstruation is when her first period strikes. However, the film then defaults to following DePalma and Cohen, with tweaks that invariably make for a smoother, more predictable effort, hammering what was actually an odd structure (an hour of teen comedy followed by a horror movie apocalypse) into a more conventional genre film structure. We see more effects scenes as Carrie uses and exercises her powers with more skill even as the persecution/prom night plot is unfolding in parallel, which means that the film keeps reminding us it’s a horror movie and that all hell will break loose. However, this is a quick fix that hurts the characterisation … Moretz’s Carrie has more confidence in her powers than Sissy Spacek’s. She takes the time during the holocaust to spare a couple of sympathetic characters (Judy Greer as the gym teacher, Gabriella Wilde as Sue Snell) and torment the main villains (Portia Doubleday’s Chris, Alex Russell’s Billy) before killing them, which means she hasn’t completely lost control the way DePalma’s did and thus is a more culpable, indeed malicious character.
There are other additions, some of which work (Margaret White’s crafty self-harming) and some of which come from nowhere (Sue’s pregnancy). King noticed how DePalma and Cohen made his story female-led but Pierce strangely pulls back from that, making Billy the dominant partner in the cruel prank (against someone he doesn’t know) and Chris hesitant at key moments and beefing up ideal boyfriend Tommy (Ansel Elgort) into more than just a good-looking nice guy (it’s confirmed here, as it wasn’t in 1976, that the bucket to the head kills him). A minor contemporary element is added in that Carrie’s locker room freak-out is captured by camera-phone and posted on the internet while a few text messages serve to hurry the plot along, but there was much more about up-to-date, cyber-assisted bullying methods in The Rage. Intent on securing a R/15 rating, this omits nudity – which means a lot of towel-clutching in the locker room scene – and profanity, though blood flows freely and Chris has an especially unpleasant face-through-a-windscreen fate.
A rain of stones that demolishes the White house is taken from the novel, though King copped it from Shirley Jackson in the first place. The ending doesn’t reproduce the hand-from-the-grave kicker that wowed audiences in 1976 – I saw it on opening week, and can attest that the hokey stunt really provoked screams – but comes up with something else (weak) and even goes along with a popular misremembering of the original be relocating Susan’s pilgrimage from the vacant lot where the White house used to be to the site of Carrie’s grave. Moore (especially) and Moretz are good, Judy Greer continues to be one of the best and most undervalued supporting players around and nobody does chinless feeble authority figures like Barry Shabaka Henley (as the principle) but the good and bad kids are pale shadows of DePalma’s vivid, memorable supporting cast (John Travolta, William Katt, Amy Irving, Nancy Allen, PJ Soles, even Edie McClurg). It’s still a good story, and this new Carrie is watchable enough on that basis but there’s a sense that a 2013 Carrie remake ought to have struck out and forged its own identity and found a new context rather than simply doing DePalma over again.