Any remake of a horror classic — and make no mistake about it, Brian De Palma’s Carrie is a classic — is going to come under a lot of scrutiny and will be automatically dismissed by some due to being unnecessary. Such is the case with the remake of Carrie, which updates the setting but is more or less a scene-for-scene retread of the original. Both films are considered adaptations of Stephen King’s novel, and while this film had the opportunity to be more faithful to the source material, that wasn’t the direction taken.
For those unfamiliar with the story, the plot goes something like this: Carrie White (Chloë Grace Moretz) is an unpopular, bullied girl at high school. She doesn’t understand how to fit in and is ignorant about most things girls her age know because of her mother (Julianne Moore), a religious fanatic. And by “fanatic,” a more judgmental — but possibly more appropriate — word you could substitute in would be “nutjob.” Carrie is subjected to mental and physical abuse and has been mentally stunted due to growing up in this household.
So, when she has her first period in the gym locker room, she has no idea what is happening to her, and is then tormented further by her classmates, who even go so far as to upload a video of her freaking out online. One of the girls, Sue (Gabriella Wilde) feels bad about this and sets out to make things right. Another one, Chris (Potia Doubleday), hopes to make things worse, setting up a devastating prank to be pulled off at prom.
One important thing to note: Carrie has telekinetic powers. In the original, these powers manifested themselves whenever emotions came to a boil. In the remake, Carrie actually learns to control her powers relatively early on. She takes delight in being able to move things with her mind. This could be used to take things in a new direction. I was interested to see how the climactic prom scene would play out in this new version. But, for the most part, this is ultimately a distinction without a difference, as pretty much everything happens just as it did in the original.
Which is to say that the bullied, repressed Carrie finally gets to take revenge on those who mistreated her in a rage that can only be believed after you’ve seen it. The breaking point is reached, emotions boil over, and the ensuing carnage is a sight to behold. At least, it was in the original, where there’s no sense that Carrie can control her telekinesis. Here, we’ve seen her have complete control, so the prom scene and subsequent “I didn’t mean it” don’t have the same type of power.
It’s no longer about someone being pushed too far; it’s about someone sick of being mistreated and deciding to do something about it. Or, it should be, but then the film tries to keep the same type of tone as the original and it just doesn’t work. We get mixed messages. Part of it different from the original, but that gets contradicted by later scenes. It’s like the filmmakers wanted to divert but weren’t sure how so they only went halfway and the result is something that doesn’t really work.
This won’t likely matter to a lot of people. You’re here to see some high school bullying and then the bullies getting their comeuppance in the third act. You get all that. The bullying is cruel — and the updated setting allows for a couple of new takes on how bullying occurs in a high school setting — and the payback is crueler. While the original Carrie still holds up, CGI allows for some more creative kills that just couldn’t have been done in 1976.
Despite this, there’s a noticeable lack of energy to pretty much everything that happens in the film. I found myself nodding off even if there wasn’t anything “wrong” with most of what was on-screen. The actors are fine, the pacing is duplicates De Palma’s film, and there isn’t a whole lot to dislike about it. But you don’t feel anything while it’s happening. It’s generic, I guess is the word I want. There’s no unique vision brought to the material. Its few changes are ultimately inconsequential, or just go to water down the original, which brings back the question “What’s the point?”
Well, apart from the gore and a touch of profanity, this is certainly a safer, more kid-friendly version of the story. If you wouldn’t let your 16-year-old see the original, this one is probably safe. The male gaze isn’t as prevalent this time around — which makes sense, considering the director is Kimberly Peirce, a woman — meaning you won’t feel as uncomfortable while watching it (although that added to the original’s effect, didn’t it?). And you get to see Judy Greer do really well as the gym teacher, Ms. Desjardin, and it’s always fun to see Judy Greer in a non-comedic role, isn’t it?
The Carrie remake is unnecessary but not altogether bad. It’s a watered-down, more easily accessible version of De Palma’s film, basically. It occasionally attempts to divert but these changes wind up being contradicted by other aspects of the film, leading to tonal inconsistencies. It’s all competent and you’re unlikely to have a bad experience watching it, but I can’t shake the feeling that you’re far better off watching the original. It’s a horror classic for a reason.