Updated 'Carrie' remake hits the bully's eye
It's amazing how presciently Stephen King's 1974 novel "Carrie" and Brian DePalma's 1976 movie version predicted today's awareness of the bullying epidemic in schools.
Young Carrie's religious wacko mother bullies her first, then a gaggle of giggling high school girls continues to ridicule and target the poor girl, not realizing that with the start of her menstrual cycle she develops telekinetic powers.
Strangely, Kimberly Peirce's remake, adapted by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, fails to seize on the uncanny and timely relevance of King's story.
Nobody at Carrie's high school mentions an anti-bullying policy. None of the icky girls who torment Carrie in the school showers gets assigned to sensitivity training.
In fact, I don't recall the "b" word ever being used in the screenplay. What a wasted opportunity to turn "Carrie" into a full-throttle cautionary lesson about the risks of taunting telekinetic kids.
Peirce would appear to be the ideal director to relaunch "Carrie" for the 21st century. Her 1995 fact-based drama "Boys Don't Cry" won an Oscar for star Hilary Swank as another young female outsider struggling to fit in with prevailing society.
Here, popular "Kick-Ass" star Chloe Grace Moretz updates Sissy Spacek's Oscar-nominated portrait of a poor girl so drained of self-confidence that every bully who needs a quick and easy power fix takes a bite of her.
Peirce's "Carrie" begins with Margaret White (Julianne Moore) alone, screaming in pain, pleading for God to take her as she bleeds profusely in her bed.
To her amazement, a baby appears and begins crying.
"It's a test!" she mutters, and picks up a nasty pair of scissors to kill Satan's spawn.
If Carrie White (yes, Mom decided not to kill her) grew up to become a crack addict or a snake handler, we would understand why.
Instead, the baby grows up to be a gentle, beautiful girl constantly struggling with her mother's insane religious practices and her deteriorating mental health.
The infamous shower scene from DePalma's thriller -- where Carrie thinks she's dying because Mom never warned her about her first period -- gains an added level of spite when evil classmate Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) records the event on her cellphone and posts it on the Internet.
The shy, confused Carrie gains a champion in Coach Desjardin (Judy Greer, usually doing supporting roles in iffy romantic comedies). She calls out the bullies and makes a fierce enemy with the non-contrite Chris, whose treatment of Carrie so badly shakes her friend Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) that she does something amazing: she leaves Chris' social clique.
Sue feels so bad about Carrie that she asks her boyfriend Tommy Ross (a wonderfully cast Ansel Elgort, resembling a high school Burt Reynolds, filled with more charm than smarts) to take Carrie to the upcoming prom.
And we know that no good can come from this.
Peirce gives us a respectable "Carrie" remake, but it lacks the power and excessive stylistic trimmings of the 1976 original that put DePalma on the cinematic map as the heir apparent to Alfred Hitchcock.
DePalma's use of slow motion, intricate camera movements and laboriously detailed, long-fuse setups to maximize suspense are suggested here, but not duplicated by Peirce.
Neither does she resurrect the original ending that probably required the nation's theater owners to clean their seats after a few showings.
But it does offer disturbingly realistic performances by Moretz and Moore, communicating layers and layers of conflicting emotions while telling a classic Stephen King horror tale.
Not about telekinesis or revenge, but about how easy it can be to crush an innocent soul by simply withholding support, kindness and sensitivity.
"Carrie"★ ★ ★
Starring: Chloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer, Gabriella Wilde, Ansel Elgort, Portia Doubleday
Directed by: Kimberly Peirce
Other: An MGM/Screen Gems release. Rated R for language, sexual situations, violence. 92 minutes