In Carrie, the latest “reimagining” of Stephen King’s career-launching revenge fable, Chloë Grace Moretz slips into the blood-soaked prom dress of the title telepath, transported out of the ’70s and into a new era of Internet-abetted cruelty. On paper, the casting makes sense: Moretz, of Let Me In and the Kick-Ass movies, has the proper temperament—an ability to turn on a dime from adolescent innocence to volcanic rage. (Plus, she looks great drenched in viscera.) What the young starlet lacks—and this was the crucial quality that Sissy Spacek brought to the role in 1976—is a credible otherness. In previous incarnations, Carrie White was a real odd duck, so improperly socialized that she almost seemed to have been raised on a different planet. Moretz, with her soft, cherubic features and flowing locks, isn’t just too conventionally pretty for the part. She’s too adjusted, coming across less like the “very peculiar girl” King described in his novel and more like the stealth babe of some nottie-to-hottie teen romance. Buying that this girl would have trouble making friends, or snagging a genuine date to the dance, is even harder than pretending that a pair of glasses makes Rachael Leigh Cook look undesirable.
In ways that extend far beyond Spacek’s authentically awkward performance, Brian De Palma’s Carrie was something of an odd duck, too. It swapped tones and perspectives constantly, nodding to the epistolary nature of its source material by spending as much time with the supporting characters as with Carrie herself. Were it possible to forget that genre milestone for even a second, the remake could be judged on its own merits. But this new Carrie is, like the recent Straw Dogs, a faded Xerox. Director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) has replicated the De Palma film scene for scene, but also drained every drop of camp humor and crazed craftsmanship, as one might remove the blood from a sow. Once again, the late onset of puberty jolts the plot into motion: Poor Carrie learns of both her monthly burden and her special powers in the locker room, while her classmates pelt her with tampons. A sympathetic gym teacher (Judy Greer) intervenes, inciting the wrath of the queen bitch (Portia Doubleday). To amend for her role in the torment, another of the mean girls (Gabriella Wilde) talks her good-natured boyfriend (Ansel Elgort) into asking Carrie to prom. The dance and the pigs, the bucket and the blood, the fire and the knives—all are trotted out anew, for an audience presumably too young to have even absorbed these iconic images through cultural osmosis.
Depressing as it is to see a classic cannibalized, Carrie actually fares even worse when it deviates. As the heroine’s mother, a role previously and masterly occupied by Piper Laurie, Julianne Moore cranks the crazy to 11. Her Mrs. White is truly loony tunes, banging her head against the wall, cutting herself under her dress, and—in a needless prologue—stopping just short of gouging out her newborn baby’s eyes with a pair of rusty scissors. (Moore doesn’t so much chew the scenery as bleed all over it.) Where the movie really errs, though, is in the fateful finale—and not just because Peirce stages it without a fraction of the verve De Palma brought to his split-screen climax. Perhaps it’s impossible, in a post-Columbine world, to fully groove on the apocalyptic retaliation of a class misfit. But by making Carrie’s rampage subjective, with her wrath reserved almost exclusively for those who “deserve” it, Peirce dilutes the ghastly power—the full, insane horror—of her big setpiece. It’s a strange thing to say about a movie so obsessed with the red stuff, but this Carrie is bloodless.