You can’t judge Kimberly Peirce’s take on Carrie on its own merits; every similarity to and deviation from Brian De Palma’s iconic 1976 version becomes a point of debate.
And while there are some decidedly 21st century touches – Carrie White’s infamous locker-room humiliation is captured on a smartphone and broadcast on YouTube – it rarely deviates from the structure of its forebear.
Chloe Grace Moretz plays the eponymous bullied high school student who begins to develop telekinetic powers, raising one of the most fundamental questions about the adaptation: isn’t she too pretty? De Palma’s Carrie, the brilliant Sissy Spacek, was a gawky, peculiar-looking creature who moved with the gait of a newborn foal: you can imagine her having a hard time in the cut-throat environment of an American high school. Moretz, though, even made-down with black bags under her eyes and tangled, voluminous hair, exudes a classic, noir-ish beauty. Of course, her issues are internal; her abuse at the hands of her domineering mother has eroded her sense of self worth. But when her entire school, teachers included, expresses collective shock when she attracts a prom date, it’s a little difficult to swallow.
Moretz initially overcompensates, hunching her shoulders and contorting her face into an expression somewhere between nausea and surprise. But as Carrie’s transformation – explicitly into a telekinetic powerhouse, implicitly into a woman – takes hold, Moretz finds surer footing. The tentative trust Carrie places in those around her is genuinely touching, especially in light of the inevitable, impending tragedy. She’s such a damaged, timid soul that you’d have to be a monster not to root for her as she takes to the stage in her prom dress.
Carrie’s realisation of her telekinetic powers, though, veers a little too close to Marvel superhero territory. Surely part of the point is that her powers are instinctual and invasive – a reflection on burgeoning sexuality – rather than a tool to be used at will?
Julianne Moore provides the stand-out performance as Carrie’s mother, imbuing her with a human frailty, although she lacks the terrifying malice of Piper Laurie’s take on the role.
Peirce’s film is interesting as a point of comparison to De Palma’s – how more developed female characters subtly affect the narrative, how mobile technology is an inescapable, often pernicious, influence on modern society – but it lacks the clout and the conviction of De Palma’s more muscular, detached vision.
First published in City A.M.