Kimberly Peirce’s Carrie may as well be called Carrie for Dummies. A simplified handling of Stephen King’s novel and Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation, the latest version takes a familiar tale and dumbs it down, the end result of which barely resembles the source material yet is no fantasia on the story either.
Whether or not you’ve seen the original film, chances are you’ve come across the image of a blood-drenched Sissy Spacek in a prom dress, a cinematic icon just a step up from the terror she inflicts upon her classmates at the big dance. Minus that ending, an adaptation of King’s novel all but ceases to be Carrie, a direction Peirce and screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (sharing a credit with the ’76 film’s scribe Lawrence D. Cohen) want no part of in pursuit of the big Halloween bucks. And so, build up to that point they must, but in following through they merely truncate and reheat De Palma’s film until little flavor remains.
Earning Cohen his inclusion, Peirce’s Carrie pays homage to numerous scenes from its predecessor, but botches every one. The Boys Don’t Cry director displays minimal sense of timing and can’t even get a lightbulb to pop with style. Not helping matters is Aguirre-Sacasa’s retooling. Though arguably an improvement in structure, the gains in clarity mean sacrifices in ambiguity, leaving no doubt that Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) and her boyfriend Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort) are pro-Carrie, a key uncertainty in the ’76 version, especially in regards to Tommy’s stance.
Still, there’s a desire to award some bonus points for casting 16-year-old Chloë Grace Moretz as the titular telekinetic and several teens as her peers. More fitting on paper than the then 27-year-old Spacek and her 20something classmates, Moretz not only cleans up too well to be a believable wallflower, she’s also ill-equipped for the role’s demands even in this elementary incarnation. Not quite to Kristen Stewart limitations, she nonetheless resorts to teeth-sucking and lip-biting to convey shyness and is granted little support from her co-stars, including Julianne Moore as Carrie’s oppressive fundamentalist Christian mother and Judy Greer’s supportive gym teacher, Ms. Desjardin.
Further killing Carrie’s vibe is an arsenal of cheap special effects. Costing around $30 million, the surprisingly generic appearance resembles any of the similarly indistinct horror sequels from earlier this year and even has a shot that echoes the finale of The Last Exorcism: Part 2. Such quality is at its worst when Carrie at last breaks bad, leading to a steady stream of Moretz holding up her hands and looking constipated while lousy F/X inflicts seen-it-all chaos. The De Palma original is no masterpiece, but its pyrotechnics, slamming doors, and knives-on-strings carry significantly more character than these computer cop-outs. For these crimes and many more, the problem isn’t that Peirce has made a bad remake, but that she’s made a bad film period.
Rated R for bloody violence, disturbing images, language and some sexual content.
Carrie is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.