The combined powers of Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore can't quite lift this horror remake off the ground.
December 02, 2013
In a genre often constructed around male anxieties and fantasies, Carrie is perhaps the ultimate girl-horror film. All the things that have at some point terrified us — pregnancy, periods, prom — are there, as is the ultimate fantasy: a secret power that gives you real, total control over the world.
So it was pretty exciting to hear that the Stephen King novel and iconic 1976 Brian De Palma film were to be remade, with three very kick-arse women at the helm — Chloe Grace Moretz as Carrie, Julianne Moore as her scary fanatical mother and Boys Don't Cry's Kimberly Pierce directing. Unfortunately, the completed film not only doesn't add anything particularly new to the mix, it fails to stand on its own feet and cohere its somewhat disparate components.
The splatterfest comes late in any version of Carrie; for the most part the story is a different kind of unsettling. Having grown up in the hermitic and abusive care of her mother, a religious zealot, Carrie is a true misfit at school. Excruciatingly, it means she has no way of knowing, when she begins bleeding in the locker room showers, what menstruation is. Her classmates' shock and disbelief turns them into an animalistic pack, who descend upon her jeering, pelting her with tampons and, of course, recording the whole ordeal on their smartphones.
It's a gut-turning scene — if only it set the mood for the whole movie. The episode affects the students involved in different ways. That's one of the most effective parts of Carrie; its nuanced depiction of schoolyard morality brings a lot of humanity to the usual portrayal of bullies versus victims, cool kids versus losers and even good teachers versus naughty kids.
So a remorseless Chris (Portia Doubleday) refuses to cop the punishment from tough-but-fair gym teacher Miss Desjardin (Judy Greer) and gets suspended. Prom-Queen-in-waiting Sue (Gabriella Wilde), meanwhile, will not only run Miss Desjardin's mandated 'suicides', she'll convince her egotistic but basically nice boyfriend, Billy (Alex Russell), to take Carrie to prom instead of her, determined to give the besieged kid a nice experience of high school and assuage her guilt.
Unbeknown to anyone, Carrie is starting to realise she has telekinetic powers and is giving them a work out. She has no reason to think she'll need them at prom, but at the same time, she's a little bomb waiting to go off — and brutal Chris will be providing the trigger, with a bloody prank she's masterminded to crown the evening.
It's here, in Carrie's climactic revenge rampage, that the film comes most unstuck. It goes really schlock, which degrades the more earnest and intense mood of so much of the lead-up. It's also not the finest schlock available, as Carrie racks up deaths that are unoriginal (or were original, 40 years ago) and comical. Laughter is not the best release valve to have pulled at this point in the film.
While Moretz is good as Carrie (there's just enough alien about her that she can pull off the outsider role), she adopts a mentally vacant robot face for this portion of the proceedings that jars. Moore is exceptional as the true villain of the piece, ultimately vulnerable but probably irredeemable.
The whole thing is watchable, but for a story that actually contains multitudes of messages about girlhood, bullying and adolescent violence all while combining revenge fantasy and tragedy, it doesn't rise to the occasion. Sadly, Carrie is set to go down as another example of a film whose ingenious viral marketing stunt will outshine its cinematic impact.
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