Director Kimberly Peirce’s take on Carrie manages to wring a workable update out of Stephen King’s source material. While not revelatory, it’s a fairly good adaptation that will delight some viewers and make others wonder if it was at all necessary (though it may translate well to younger audiences unfamiliar with the property). The new film reinstates certain elements of King’s book that were missing from Brian De Palma’s classic 1976 film (and gets some mileage out of them), but if you’re looking for anything shockingly new you’re looking in the wrong place.
The new Carrie begins with a prologue that veers sharply into welcomely unfamiliar territory before settling into its retelling, sprinkling additions and subtractions throughout. Of course it’s not as good as De Palma’s interpretation, but it’s also not the stillborn effort many have been expecting since the film’s announcement. In fact, for the bulk of its running time, Carrie is a solid teen movie (despite the “R” rating, the tone indicates that Peirce is directly targeting the demographic she’s depicting).
I don’t mean that as a slight, it’s here – exploring the tortured emotions and souls of high school – where Peirce feels truly engaged. There’s something in her that really gets that torment and she more than ably brings it to the screen. The same goes for the scenes at the White residence. Everything between Carrie and her Mom (played with pale, dry-lipped venom by Julianne Moore) really works. Their relationship is full of contradictory emotions and intentions, all of which boil over nicely (at least when the overuse of CG isn’t an issue).
It also helps that the performances are universally solid (the one exception being Gabriella Wilde’s Sue Snell who is given too little to do). Moore and Judy Greer are standouts and, while I was initially concerned that Chloe Moretz was too poised and confident to inhabit the titular role, she manages to play insecurity nicely. The film’s secret weapon, however, is Portia Doubleday as Chris Hargensen. She is absolutely on fire here, villainous and evil but palpably vulnerable. She’s not on onscreen as much as she should be, but when she does appear the film operates on another level.
Where the film ultimately falters is in its overuse of CGI. A banal battle cry? Perhaps. But the slick manifestations of telekineses ladled over nearly every scene beyond the first act become overwhelming. For every surprisingly honest moment, there’s a needless effect waiting around the corner to undo it. It’s a bummer because all of the digital histrionics on display retroactively make the film’s good decisions look like accidents. There’s a lot of confident, good stuff in Carrie. It’s just a shame that she falls apart at the prom.