Joining the parade of remakes/reboots/sequels/prequels that have filed through our cinema screens for the past few years is this ‘re-imagining’ of the classic Stephen King book. Obviously though the biggest comparisons that will be made are to DePalma’s movie of 1976. Regarded as a classic, I think DePalma did a very good job but there were niggling issues that made me feel quite optimistic about this new version. Perhaps due to being made by a female director, probably simply due to it not being the 1970’s any more, there are no longer lingering, almost voyeuristic scenes of naked high school girls – a fact that no doubt will cause despair amongst the Chloe Moretz-obsessed forums, but this comparison sets the tone for a less gratuitous telling of the story, giving way to deeper exploration of themes and character ties, if still treading the same path as DePalma’s version for better or worse.
We follow Carrie through the story we already know, but Kimberly Peirce injects just enough originality to make it feel fresh, and we are given greater insight into Carrie’s mother, played brilliantly by Julianne Moore. While DePalma pitched her largely as the villain, here she has a more human quality to her, set up by a surprisingly dark opening scene. The emotional impact is dwelled on much more than any horrific element in these sections of the film. Though we want to hate Carrie’s mother for what she’s doing to her daughter, there’s a real fragility in her that prevents the relationship from being completely black & white. In another branch away from the original film, Carrie discovers her powers gradually and endeavours to control them; much to the terror of her mother; in a fairly obvious but effective parallel to any teenager of her age fighting for control of their lives over their parents.
In the high school, events follow a path much more similar to the original; Carrie’s classmates and teachers played by a very competent cast it never feels that there’s anything wrong, but there isn’t a sense of much being introduced, beyond the obvious modernisations of the 21st century setting. Despite disappointment at a lack of change in the plot, Kimberly Peirce manages to avoid the exploration of teen bullying becoming too melodramatic that we feel we’re being lectured, but is depicted harshly enough that we feel genuinely sorry for Carrie. It is this sympathy we feel for Carrie that is the greatest success of the film; Chloe Moretz’s casting was criticized as she was considered too pretty to play Carrie, but her and Peirce make a strong case that Carrie doesn’t have to be plain or even ugly, she’s an outcast regardless because she has been raised not to mix with the other girls (and certainly not boys). Moretz plays her with a fragility easily comparable to Spacek, it is in the changes made that she is given the chance to show a strength that Spacek never had the opportunity to showcase.
Despite all the small successes she achieves, we know that everything won’t be okay for Carrie and the film uses this inevitability to it’s advantage. By the time the prom comes around, everyone knows what is going to happen, but rather than hurry through, the scene is rather extended, really driving the point that Carrie is essentially living her dream, making even the most sociopathic viewer wish for there to somehow be a massive twist and the bucket of pig’s blood somehow doesn’t fall, but every piece of publicity for the film has taken delight in crushing our hopes for a happy ending. Eventually, when the pig’s blood hits the fan, the finale successfully walks the tightrope of giving us a much bigger, more brutal climax with a wider fallout zone than DePalma’s film, but doesn’t go anywhere near suffering from Man of Steel syndrome where the destruction is too big that it switches you off from the plot, nor do Carrie’s incredibly inventive means of despatching students come too close to looking plucked from a Final Destination film. Rather than the ambiguity of the original, the new Carrie definitely intends for all this to happen, and Moretz plays the scene with a disturbing power, really adding to the intensity of the sequence.
The film ends, having followed the main beats of DePalma’s version which at times feels like the easy option, feeding the argument that a remake wasn’t perhaps necessary. However, the film was made whether we wanted it or not and I personally am happy with the changes made, giving an emotional impact lasting after the film ends which is unusual for any horror of this era. It doesn’t blow DePalma’s out of the water and it occasionally struggles to maintain it’s own identity but it certainly stands above the majority of remakes that have been carelessly thrown out of studios recently. As a standalone movie, which it should finally be judged as, I see it as one of the best big budget horrors of the last few years.