Published Oct 18, 2013In theory, a Carrie remake helmed by Kimberly Peirce (the director of Boys Don't Cry) should, even if not entirely successful, have a moderately fresh take on the material. The source Stephen King novel and, more specifically, the resulting Brian De Palma film — about a young girl that develops telekinetic powers after getting her first period — were mired in religious iconography, interpreting feminine intuition and psychology in the absence of men as monstrosities. They empathized while objectifying, being more concerned with the representation of religious influence, or the complete absence of it, as an imposing force on a divided, increasingly reckless and liberated generation of youth.
Smartly, Peirce mostly negates the religious angle. Carrie's (Chloë Grace Moretz) mother, Margaret (Julianne Moore), is still driven by religious guilt and an exaggerated sense of self-loathing and bodily horror attributed to the singular male narrative of the bible, but this is more of a peripheral instigator of difference than social commentary. The focus — one that guides the populist and politically conscious thematic backdrop of bullying — is on Carrie's victimization, providing some heartbreaking (and often unintentionally funny) context for her peculiar behaviour and tendency to withdraw from peer bonding rituals.
Though obvious and moderately disappointing — ignoring the representation of gender and mother/daughter power dynamics — the presentation of Carrie as an antihero, pointing out the absurdity of harassing a weirdo that minds their own business, works for what it is. After being superficially established as the hyperbolic representation of difference, shaking and cowering like an injured animal during gym class, the shower menstruation scene, wherein good girl Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) and nasty bitch Chris (Portia Doubleday) pelt her with tampons, is videotaped and posted to YouTube to highlight the tactics of modern bullying.
Peirce approaches these situations with broadness and breeziness, drawing each character as a mere caricature of good or bad intentions, checking off the plot points with little care for detail or substance. While Carrie rapidly acclimates to her powers, being a far more assured and grounded version of the alienated late bloomer, Sue wracks her mind with guilt, asking boyfriend Tommy (Ansel Elgort) to take the outsider to the prom, despite snarling commentary from single-minded, aspiring psychopath Chris.
There's no genuine sense of motivation or deeper influence for anyone, in part because of the inconsistent reality presented — entire hallways of classmates laugh at Carrie, yet other students in other scenes don't even know who she is — and also because the rapid progression of plot points is too impatient to allow any moment to have meaning.
It also doesn't help that Moretz vacillates wildly between pseudo-normalcy and ridiculously contrived awkwardness. She seems exceedingly capable of taking control of her life and assimilating when she pops out of twitchy, theatrical performance, confidently interpreting and challenging the scripture her mother preaches as mode of control. Too many significant moments in her experience — adapting to telekinesis and the advent of sexual awareness — are handled with a flippant montage and shallow duality, making her eventual act of vengeance on her abusive classmates more calculated and confident than guided by emotion and tragically fatalistic.
Peirce does make clear how "shitty" it is to torture those that are different—particularly because it's often abuse and hardship that have made them that way — but never manages to scratch beyond the superficiality of this assertion. No attempts are made to assess the psychology of bullying or the compounding nature of victimization — those targeted tend to approach all relationships waiting for people to turn on them or hurt them, thus sabotaging things from the outset — just as the unspoken idea that Carrie's mother might be right — she was raped out of wedlock and her daughter did develop supernatural "demonic" powers — is tiptoed around.
Virtually every opportunity to dig deeper into the material was missed, leaving only the climactic abundance of CGI carnage and surprisingly gnarly slow motion violence to reiterate how surprisingly puerile and broad Carrie really is. Presumably, this flimsiness and empty stylization stem from the sheer effort of trying to communicate a socially conscious concept to a generation of texting, tweeting, attention-deprived teens, but it has a contrary result.
Likely all anyone will take from this remake is the hilarity of Carrie and her mother talking about "dirty pillows" and the possibility of boys being attracted to "blood smell." (Sony)