Kimberly Peirce’s 2013 remake of Carrie White’s widely known horror story works adequately as a standalone movie, but more or less exactly copies the prom dress worn by its predecessors. It plays as both a supernatural horror and a coming-of-age high school film, and is a modest success at both. Disturbing more than scaring, with a dark crescendo into the iconic climax at the prom that will still petrify even those who know exactly what will happen, Carrie (the film) doesn’t deserve to be picked on – but it doesn’t deserve to win prom queen, either.
Based on Stephen King’s very first published novel, the story is heavily known, and nothing much has changed with the remake. Carrie White (Chloë Grace Moretz) is that girl who sits in the back of the room and never talks and everyone torments (though was it just me or was there only a few bullies and mostly people sticking up for her this time?). Her mother Margaret (Julianne Moore) does not help. She’s a crazy church lady taken too far, and suspects her daughter of being sinful and also maybe a witch on the side. She forcibly locks Carrie (or as she freakishly calls her, “little girl”) in a closet for hours to make her pray for sins Carrie usually didn’t intentionally commit.
Carrie gets her first period while showering after gym, and her classmates lead by Chris (Portia Doubleday) film the debacle and post it online. Popular girl Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) participated in the cruel joke, but feels guilty afterwards and urges her boyfriend Tommy (Ansel Elgort) to take Carrie to prom rather than herself. Carrie accepts Tommy’s invitation despite her mother’s abusive protests. Meanwhile, Carrie’s gym teacher and part time life mentor Miss Desjardin (Judy Greer) bans Chris from prom, and, being a typical high school girl, plots the ultimate of catty revenge via pig slaughter.
While the teen drama side of the movie plays out Carrie also discovers she has an ability to manipulate objects with sheer mental power called telekinesis. She harnesses the powers to extract long due revenge on her mother (though, from Moretz’s disappointingly tepid performance, we never would have known it was supposed to be scary). Just when Carrie finally looks happy, pitter-patter goes the pig blood, and prom truly becomes a night to never forget.
It’s painful to admit about an actress with such a solid resume so far, but Moretz was miscast for the role. Considering how many movies she’s acted in at a meager 16 years of age, she’s probably never set foot in a high school that wasn’t crowded with cameras and lighting equipment. If she has any experience as a high school student, let alone the school outcast, it doesn’t translate well to the camera. I wonder if she knows there’s such a thing as people who aren’t famous. Regardless, at 16 she still has all the time she needs to mature, and Carrie is the first misstep of her career.
In contrast, Julianne Moore’s sick, serpentine performance was terrifying without needing to use any jumpy music or sudden movements. Her character is so much fun to hate. Moore carried a good portion of the movie’s scares herself with her complete immersion to the character. She twisted even the simplest lines into unnerving threats, while Moretz’s timid delivery of even the most disturbing lines is more likely to conjure up laughs than scares. The film’s slow crawl to the climax is evenly balanced between high school drama and horror. Each scare is produced with enough finesse so that it never feels anything less than natural, and it keeps the audience never completely at ease.
Thankfully Peirce chooses not to rely heavily on special effects (which would have been easy with Carrie’s telekinesis), considering that the goofiness of the effects sometimes detracted from the horror. The effects were possibly aimed to be throwbacks to the older Carrie adaptions, or they were possibly just really bad. Either way, they interrupted what was otherwise the consistently nail-biting mood of the film.
Carrie’s disappointing debut at the box office isn’t undeserved. If this were the original version it would be a cultural phenomenon right now, but unfortunately not even Julianne Moore’s disturbing performance could make it stand out from previous adaptions. Maybe it would’ve been better if Carrie just stayed home on prom night.