The sheer existence of this third adaptation of Stephen King’s debut novel is a baffling phenomenon—as difficult to explain as the blood that's somehow drawn from a porcelain Jesus by the titular telekinetic teen. The film’s being hyped as more faithful to the source material, as though that meant anything. King himself stated his own confusion as to why Screen Gems/MGM would pursue the project when the original Brian De Palma-directed Carrie (1976), featuring a genius lead performance from Sissy Spacek, was so good. Conceding that it would at least be fun to cast, King suggested Lindsay Lohan as Carrie. Which would be ridiculous. But trust me, ridiculous would be vastly preferable to this new Carrie, which is dull and pointless.
Shorting out fluorescents and exploding her high school principal’s water cooler within the first ten minutes, our new Carrie (Chloë Grace Moretz) displays her special abilities—spurred by her menstrual cycle’s belated inauguration—early and flamboyantly. Relentlessly teased by her peers and chastised daily by her mentally ill religious zealot mother (Julianne Moore), Carrie is a hapless outcast even in her own home. As with old Carrie, new Carrie tracks its heroine’s fleeting illusion of social acceptance, public humiliation and eventual climatic vengeance. Strangely, while new Carrie more or less follows the same narrative trajectory as old Carrie, its ostensible heroine barely registers as a presence; this time around, it seems like Sue (Gabriella Wilde)—the girl who feels bad and convinces her boyfriend to take Carrie to the prom as repentance—is actually the protagonist. Too bad Sue is also boring.
This is partly due to the miscasting of Moretz, who seems unable to navigate Carrie’s emotional journey. She offers the same slack-jawed, wounded expression in scene after scene, switching to an unconvincing demented smile during her reign of terror. Where Spacek’s Carrie was a tormented, naïve yet intelligent girl on the cusp of womanly self-actualization, Moretz’s Carrie reads as mere victim, so withdrawn as to be opaque and nearly impossible to empathize with. Butt empathy she gets, from boring Sue, from Billy (Alex Russell), Sue’s boyfriend, and from Miss Desjardin (Judy Greer), the gym teacher. The performances from Russell, whose posturing is endearingly hilarious, and Greer, who deftly plays her ever scene for laughs, are easily the best things in the movie. The scene where Billy teaches Carrie to slow-dance is sweet.
There are reasons why a 21st century Carrie could have been relevant, such as the story’s potential engagement with rising concerns over bullying, especially via the internet, or Carrie’s mom’s alliance with the religious right. But, aside from an video of a terrified Carrie being uploaded onto YouTube—an act of very little consequence to the story—new Carrie might as well have been set in 1976. Its paucity of fresh ideas is kind of astounding, as is the absence of any envelope-pushing for a young audience accustomed to more gore and degradation. (No, you won’t see Moretz’s “dirty pillows.”) Spacek’s Carrie was far scarier and De Palma’s version was far more sensationalistic and sexualized, right down to the all-but-explicit homosexuality of the gym teacher. Even the special effects in old Carrie are more effective than the limpid, ultra-phony CG on display here. Watching so much lazy craft on display here—the uninspired coverage, the cuts that don’t match—you get the impression that director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry, Stop-Loss) just gave up. The film was originally slated for a March release and the delay seems to have been prompted by reshoots to make the final result even stupider. As in art, so in life: Pierce got bullied. And now everybody has to pay.