The word "re-imagining" seems to have obtruded itself into the publicity materials for the latest big-screen version of Stephen King's "Carrie."
Obviously, that particular "R-word" sounds more artistic and less blasé than "remake." It's all semantics, of course, but such is the nature of advertising.
Nonetheless, the new "Carrie" proves more revisited than revised by a new director with another talented cast that should click with younger audiences, particularly those unfamiliar with the 1976 original. This is actually the fourth version of "Carrie," unless we disregard the 2002 TV movie of the same name and the 1999 sequel called "The Rage: Carrie 2." But it is best to ignore them.
Carrie White (Chloë Grace Moretz) is the oddball of her teenage class, perfectly understandable because her single mother (Julianne Moore) is an unbalanced, sexually repressed religious fanatic. Having become the laughing stock of her peers after a humiliating experience in the shower room, Carrie then becomes the hapless pawn in a vicious game of revenge. On one side is the bad girl (Portia Doubleday) and her cronies; on the other, a bad-girl-gone-good (Gabriella Wilde), her boyfriend (Ansel Elgort) and a sympathetic gym teacher (Judy Geer). Their eventual battleground is the high school prom where a vicious prank results in Carrie letting loose her newly found telekinetic powers in a fiery vengeance of her own.
Kimberly Peirce directs in what's only her third film since "Boys Don't Cry" (1999), for which Hilary Swank won her first Oscar. The new version of "Carrie" seems mostly true to Brian De Palma's 1976 original, which resulted in Oscar nominations for Sissy Spacek as the doomed heroine and Piper Laurie as her nutty mom. The opening sequence of the new film, featuring Carrie's grisly birth, is the major difference in terms of narrative. The closing scenes are also a bit different, but not essentially so. De Palma goes for shock effect; Peirce is more thematically oriented.
The performances in both versions are equally strong. Moretz brings to her Carrie the same vulnerability and sadness that defined Spacek's powerful performance, the major difference simply being one of physical appearance and age. The pretty Moretz (16 years old) convincingly plays down her good looks by shrinking into herself. Spacek (26 or 27 at the time of her "Carrie") radiated maturity and strength as the ugly duckling.
As for Carrie's mother, Julianne Moore plays Mrs. White as more subdued and simmering, whereas Laurie was over-the-top and shrill in the original. Both are compelling. Wilde and Elgort prove particularly appealing as Carrie's would-be friends, with their predecessors in the De Palma version having been played by Amy Irving (Spielberg's ex) and William Katt.
The new "Carrie," though R rated for violence, is considerably toned down in regard to sexuality, compared to De Palma's treatment. He proved blatantly voyeuristic while filming the shower scene in the first film.
Peirce also orchestrates the violence in line with today's standards, giving more time to Carrie's telekinetic abilities throughout the film. The prom sequence relies heavily on special effects and slow motion where De Palma utilized a split-screen choreography of the mayhem, accentuating the chaos with rapid cuts and shock effects.
On this score anyway, the first film is more effective. Moretz literally conducts her telekinetic executions with hand gestures; Spacek achieved the same results with a savage glance.
Comparisons aside, however, the new version of "Carrie" is fine on its own terms. Peirce abandons De Palma's stylistic flourishes for a more traditional narrative style, but apart from that, the major differences are the opening and closing sequences and those goofy '70s hairstyles.