In “Carrie,” director Kimberly Peirce carefully rides the road Brian De Palma laid out 37 years ago when he turned Stephen King’s novel into a suburban gothic treat. This update occasionally veers in a new direction only to have Peirce settle back into the right lane at 10 miles below the speed limit.
High school senior Carrie White (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a brutally shy pariah whose only companion is a scarily Christian mother (Julianne Moore) who uses the Bible to shield them from the real world. So when Carrie gets her period in the girls’ locker room shower, she freaks out. And her classmates, understanding souls that they are, bully her until she’s a quivering, crying mess.
As she sobs and festers and seethes, Carrie notices that her mind can move objects, a development that gets her mother’s hellish holiness rolling. Carrie’s sympathetic gym teacher (Judy Greer, delivering the film’s most rounded performance) punishes her classmates, two of whom get inspired. Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) feels she needs to further repent by giving Carrie a prom to remember, while bitchy Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) has the same goal, albeit with a malicious intent.
Carrie can either be defused or detonated, and Peirce handles the tension with a bracing amount of nonchalance. After Columbine and Virginia Tech and Newtown, anyone who has at least glanced at a news program knows the kind of social misfit Carrie White represents. Peirce and screenwriters Leonard D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa could have delved deeper into Carrie’s poisoned soul and explored why kids continue to exercise cruelty in light of recent history. They barely address the modern-day relevance save for a social media post here and an earnest speech about bullying there. It’s window dressing for a younger crowd, instead of a passionate plea.
Another big issue is Moretz, the terrific young actress from “Hugo” and “Kick-Ass,” who is too polished to portray the title role. The great benefit of Sissy Spacek being in the original, aside from looking mousy and awkward, was that she seemed off-kilter. Moretz spends the movie unsuccessfully pushing down her charisma, hiding her cover girl looks under a scarecrow’s haircut. Moore is spooky and intense – she reads her lines in a severe whisper – but Carrie 2.0 is assured and uses her telekinesis with the confidence of a comic book heroine. Mrs. White serves as more of a nuisance than an unhinged villain destroying Carrie’s life before it has begun.
The watery conflict and lack of urgency turns “Carrie” into a generic property. Still, Peirce occasionally gets motivated and throws in an intriguing detail, reviving our interest before going through the motions again. Moretz portrays Carrie as being fascinated with her gift, like she’s discovering her confidence for the first time. Mrs. White digs a needle into her leg to deal with a parent’s banal chit-chat. Carrie coquettishly crosses her feet when she’s making her prom dress. During a hellacious situation, Chris’ first text is a plea to her father to bail her out.
Peirce directed the outstanding “Boys Don’t Cry” (1999). She’s capable of passion and depth. The fact that “Carrie’s” most defining characteristic is indifference isn’t just vexing; it’s actually a bit depressing.
Rating: W W
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