They had me until the prom. There is so darn much that goes right in the brand new “Carrie” film from Kimberly Peirce(1999’s “Boys Don’t Cry”)that it’s a resounding disappointment when she finally manages to misstep. And I believe the gymnasium celebration/mutilation(and the subsequent walk home to bat-shit crazy Momma)is where it goes awry. It’s here where the revisions don’t work for me—and I’m calling the film a revision because remake just doesn’t cut it. Having never read the Stephen King “Carrie” novel, I’d be hard-pressed(I bet I’m far from alone)to inform you which version stays most faithful to the original source. But this is my fifth different “Carrie”—sixth if you include Emily Bergl’s Rachel character from 1999’s pretty rotten “The Rage: Carrie 2″. I was at the movies for original Carrie White, Sissy Spacek, in the late 1970’s(I’m certain it wasn’t 1976 for me, I was 11 years old. Pretty sure it was a double feature horror re-release around 1978, or thereabouts—anyone remember those?). Then, of course, there was Linzi Hateley from the 1988 Broadway musical version, followed by Angela Bettis in the 2002 television movie. Then Molly Ranson took over the role for the off-Broadway musical revival in 2012. Which brings us to 15-year-old(at time of filming)”Kick-Ass” star, Chloe Grace Moretz, the youngest and prettiest of our girls soaked in pig’s blood. And she makes the part her own, in an impressive balancing act for the youngster. So, I lay the blame on Pierce for fumbling the “ball” in the fourth quarter. Up until then it was a nasty good time.
Carrie White(Ms. Moretz)is a bullied high school senior with an unhinged religious-nut mother(superb Julianne Moore, wisely reining it in from Piper Laurie’s iconic 1976 portrayal)who cloisters her daughter from society, and locks her in a “prayer closet” when she gets sullied by the evils of the world. And, of course, momma Margaret White has never discussed anything “filthy”(like monthly menstrual cycles)with her little girl, so when Carrie belatedly experiences her well past-due first period, the poor kid thinks she’s bleeding to death. And her female classmates, who already can’t stand her because of her awkwardness and ineptitude, laugh at her and pelt her with tampons as she writhes on the tile floor of the locker room shower. But something was awakened by Carrie’s first time-of-the-month. Her unofficial entry into womanhood has seemingly adorned her with the power to move things with her mind. And the gift only becomes stronger as the days progress, and Carrie quickly learns to control it. Sue Snell(knocking on super stardom’s door, Gabriella Wilde)is the one teenager who much regrets the way Carrie was humiliated by her fellow students. So, Sue enlists her boyfriend, Tommy(an excellent Ansel Elgort), to ask Carrie White if he can take her to the prom instead of Sue. Suspicious of the gesture, Carrie first turns him down, but is eventually convinced to go. Margaret White raves that it’s a trick, and that they’ll laugh at poor Carrie, but Carrie is adamant—and even unleashes her newly acquired telekinetic powers on her mother—to keep her in line. The prom begins beautifully. But if you don’t know all hell will break loose, you’ve been living in a cave.
For all the talk of us living in a post 9/11 world, the reality of a post-Columbine U.S. often seems the more accurate to me. Does this reality play a factor in Ms. Peirce’s “Carrie” and its somewhat tamer denouement? I think so. And does anyone else wonder why Stephen King chose to pull his early novel “Rage”(published under the name Richard Bachman)from store shelves, after a spate of school shootings years ago, while “Carrie” remains untouched by similar reaction? I mean, “Carrie” includes what may be the most infamous and complete school massacre in all of literary fiction. And while this “Carrie” gets the telekinetic girl’s wrath right, the forlorn emotion was missing for me when all was said and done. Am I simply jaded by having seen too many Carries? Quite possibly. But the gut-wrenching sorrow wasn’t present with this outing—and it’s a big issue. I thought Julianne Moore was marvelous in her creepy prologue scene, and she was spot-on throughout the majority of the film. Chloe Grace Moretz exhibited the perfect amount of vulnerability and renewal in the centerpiece performance. Ansel Elgort balances his reactions wonderfully as Tommy and manages to never strike a false note. Judy Greer is very solid as Carrie’s gym teacher protector, Ms. Desjardin. And Portia Doubleday is interesting as somewhat conflicted bad-girl, Chris Hargensen. Also, anyone who claims this is a scene-for-scene “remake” has not been paying attention for the last 37 years. I especially liked the subtle role-reversal in the classroom poetry reading scene—it works wonders. Plus, although the telekinesis exhibitions are amped up, they are not overdone. So, I’ll hold out hope that the finale resonates with me more in future visitations. But this “Carrie” still does ultimately perform much finer than it should. Grade: B