High school misfit Carrie White (Chloë Grace Moretz) suffers a shower room humiliation when she has her first period. Awkward, introverted and lonely, her life becomes a living hell made worse by an abusive upbringing at the hands of her bible-thumping mother Margaret (Julianne Moore). Peppy princesses Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) and Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) are called to task for their roles in the incident, especially after the latter uploads video footage online. Caring gym teacher Ms. Desjardin (Judy Greer) promptly bans Chris from going to prom. A guilt-ridden Sue sets out to make amends by persuading her handsome boyfriend Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort) to escort a delighted Carrie to the prom where unbeknownst to her, Chris has a nasty surprise. Of course no-one reckoned on Carrie's rapidly-blossoming psychokinetic powers...
Let yours truly state upfront one regards Brian De Palma's original 1976 adaptation of the Stephen King classic as one of the ten greatest horror movies ever made. In fact beyond a milestone in horror, Carrie '76 also stands as one of the great high school movies, a searing satire of a culture that thrives on the unjust persecution of the weak, maladjusted or just plain different. A cautionary fable with lessons to impart to popular kids and misfits alike. Having said all that, in recent years De Palma's version has been increasingly, strangely derided by young horror fans. Female viewers in particular have balked at what some perceive as a strain of prurience and cold-hearted misogyny lurking beneath De Palma's stylized surface. Which is my long-winded way of admitting there is room for a remake. In the years since Sissy Spacek ran amuck in her blood-splattered prom dress there has been a disastrous off-Broadway musical, a belated and unnecessary sequel The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999) from wayward cult director Katt Shea and an even more unnecessary TV remake in 2002 pairing Angela Bettis with Patricia Clarkson as Carrie and Mrs. White.
Carrie 2013 comes to the screen courtesy of Kimberley Pierce, director of Boys Don't Cry (1999), whose track record initially suggested a grittier, more sensitive take on the source. Yet although Pierce does switch the focus away from arresting imagery onto greater psychological realism, the screenplay - written by playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, author of controversial stage musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark along with several episodes of TV sensation Glee (which for all its happy-clappy reputation deals explicitly with bullying) - lifts so much from the original film that Lawrence D. Cohen retains a screen credit. One thing the new film does not mimic is the De Palma and Cohen's offbeat story structure which segued from goofy teen comedy into apocalyptic horror. It is a more conventional teen horror movie as a consequence, signposted by flashy though crucially not scary effects sequences every few scenes or so with the tone lamentably nowhere as off-kilter and weird.
Showing greater sensitivity to young female viewers, Pierce wisely avoids re-staging the controversial shower room menstruation scene in De Palma's lingering, soft-focus style, opening instead as an unknowingly pregnant Mrs. White painfully gives birth providing the first in a lifetime of traumatic incidents for the infant Carrie. Piper Laurie was Oscar nominated for her superb turn in De Palma's movie and in Carrie 2013 top-billed Julianne Moore provides a similarly powerhouse performance as the fire-and-brimstone preaching yet self-loathing and, in an interesting new twist, self-harming Margaret White. Pierce arguably places greater emphasis on the mother-daughter relationship than the high school pressure-cooker environment, reinforcing that Margaret's abuse stems from genuine albeit misguided love. However, come the fiery climax this has the unfortunate side-effect of proving Mrs. White was right all along.
Of course any Carrie movie stands or falls on the quality of its leading lady. Chloë Moretz is a fine actress and as the first age appropriate star to inhabit the role brings a lot of her own personal experience with bullying and adolescent physical and emotional changes. For the first time we have an actress going through many of the same emotions in tandem with the character. Some felt Moretz was too pretty to portray a convincing introverted outsider. Film critic A.A. Dowd of The A.V. Club went as far as to deride her, unfairly, as "a stealth babe of some nottie-to-hottie teen romance." Frankly, anyone who reckons pretty girls don't get bullied has been unfamiliar with high school for quite some time. Even so, Moretz gives us a more jarringly assertive Carrie White, more confident in using her powers. Yet given she seems more in control at the finale does that not make her more responsible for her actions?
Among the other additions Judy Greer is outstanding as a fresh interpretation of Ms. Dujardin, who has a terrific face-off with Chris, while Sue Snell and Tommy Ross are quite winning in their twenty-first century incarnations. Slasher movies take note. This allows one key character to have sex without having to suffer for it although a pregnancy sub-plot adds nothing. Oddly, like the 2002 remake this lets queen bitch Chris Hargensen off the hook slightly as she hesitates at a key point and appears more in thrall to swaggering boyfriend Billy, though she suffers a far nastier fate. Ultimately, Carrie 2013 has the feel of an oft-told tale like Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. We know what is coming, it is no longer fresh, but the primal energy of King's original story retains its power. Sadly, in light of comments posted on various horror movie message boards (e.g. "Die, bitch, die!" or "Dat bitch died way easy") one has to wonder whether contemporary viewers truly understand what this story is about.