Unlike many, I don't have a knee-jerk negative reaction to every announcement of a horror film remake, because every so often, someone gets it right. In fact, one of the films that got it especially right featured the star of the new CARRIE remake, Chloe Grace Moretz, who had a nice, creepy turn in LET ME IN, the remake of the Swedish vampire tale LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. With a nice mix of staying faithful to the spirit of the original while making small but important improvements to the pacing and plotting, LET ME IN was a strong stand-alone work.
And now we have CARRIE, based on Stephen King's first published novel and originally made into a film by Brian De Palma in 1976. (I'll also go on record as saying that I'm a massive fan of Angela Bettis's portrayal of Carrie White in the otherwise awful 2002 television mini-series version, written by "Hannibal" and "Pushing Daisies" series creator Bryan Fuller.)
This time around, director Kimberly Peirce (BOYS DON'T CRY, STOP LOSS) is at the helm of what turns out to be a shockingly and decidedly run-of-the-mill, paint-by-number remake with very little updating and even less insight in this story that seems ripe for a fresh look. Considering bullying is a major component of this story, I'm really surprised more of an emphasis isn't placed on it, especially in the scene in which Carrie's nemesis Chris Hargensen (YOUTH IN REVOLT's Portia Doubleday) is being admonished for taking cell phone video (one of the few modern touches in the film) of Carrie in the girls lockerroom when she gets her first period in the shower and puts it online.
But this isn't the film's only shortcoming. As played by the clearly talented Moretz (Hit Girl from the KICK-ASS movies, HUGO), Carrie is little more than a bundle of twitchy nerves, so much so that we don't ever really get past that scared, fragile girl whose disturbed religious mother (Julianne Moore) has clearly scarred her for life. We get tiny hints from Carrie that she'd like to be looked at as just normal, and not necessarily something special, but there is so much wasted opportunity to delve just a little below the surface of Carrie's psyche, and it just doesn't happen. The end result is simply sitting around in the theater for 90 minutes waiting for a bucket of blood to drop on her head.
When your centerpiece moment is so much a part of horror iconography (hell, I hear that "Glee" just parodied the prom scene this season), you have to at least try to freshen up the rest of the film to keep us interested. There are actually two admirable performances in CARRIE, one of which is Moore's terrifying reading as Mrs. White, who acts like a woman possessed, as likely to protectively hold her daughter as she is to smother her in her sleep. Their confrontations are the highlights of the film, if only because they feel like the only real moments of the movie (if you exclude Carrie telekinetically tossing her mother around from time to time).
The second decent performance comes from Judy Greer as gym teacher Ms. Desjardin, and while the character is substantially underwritten, Greer has enough natural talent and charm to put a little soul into her character, who is the closest thing to a protector that Carrie has ever known. Not to put down the work of Gabriella Wilde (from the upcoming ENDLESS LOVE) as Sue Snell, who attempts to make amends for laughing at Carrie in the lockerroom by setting Carrie up with her boyfriend Tommy (Ansel Elgort, soon to be seen in DIVERGENT and THE FAULT IN OUR STARS) to go to prom. I'll give Elgort some credit for playing "sweet" convincingly, but otherwise, he's a generic handsome young dude.
In this day and age, it's hard not to see Carrie as a superhero origin story, although in all likelihood, she probably was on the road to becoming a super villain. But even that shift in the cultural vantage point is ignored. I think kids or adults witnessing what Carrie does in small doses in front of people in this story would react differently. I don't expect a horror film remake to reinvent its source material, but I'd at least like to see the filmmakers make it something more than pointless.