By MICHAEL SMITH
I’d like to get more fired up about “Carrie,” but this reimagining of the 1976 horror classic is more of a near shot-by-shot remake of the original — until the final 20 minutes, when it feels more like a superhero film.
Not that the finale is all bad, because it contains most of the film’s fresh thrills, but it also features most of the fresh gore, which filmmaker Kimberly Peirce uses as a substitute for surprises.
Director Brian De Palma’s highly stylized adaptation of Stephen King’s writing left me squealing like a stuck pig when I saw it as a teen. He knew how to create marvelous set pieces full of iconic images, most of which are revived here so intact that they will not make anyone think they have been reimagined.
Not only were Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek chilling perfection in their mother-daughter roles, respectively (both Oscar-nominated, rare for a horror film), but also De Palma knew how to patiently build audience anticipation, in the form of lingering dread, at knowing what was about to happen to poor, little Carrie.
He also gave us a well-defined set of 1970s “mean girls,” and that aspect of his film is re-created in all of its present-day, social-media worst.
Carrie’s opening drama of her high school locker-room shower gone wrong — the teen endures her first menstrual cycle, unaware of its reality because her religious fanatic mom has not clued her in — is witnessed by a gaggle of giggling girls, caught on camera and posted online.
The scene sets up the strongest themes from King’s book — religious extremism, bullying in schools and the awakening of a young woman’s sexuality — and tells us a great deal about how Carrie lives with her mother, Margaret, inside their no-visitors home.
It also gives birth to the girl’s unique power of telekinesis.
Julianne Moore brings a cruel twist to the mother, making her a minister with a congregation of one, twisting the Bible to fit her rules of how she and Carrie will exist (pious, wearing dowdy clothes and ignoring the opposite sex). Moore most often opts for soft-toned rage over volume, and she throws in self-mutilation on more than one occasion to freaky effect.
What Moore does with her creepy character, especially when matched to Laurie’s original portrayal, is a true reimagining.
Chloe Grace Moretz, at 16, has quickly become the go-to girl for horror remakes, after her brilliant turn in “Let Me In” (based on the Swedish “Let the Right One In”) and “Dark Shadows.”
Her Carrie is a less-reinvented character, but she, too, offers a twist: Whereas Spacek’s Carrie seemed truly haunted, maybe to the point of fading sanity, Moretz is more of a young woman who is desperately sad that she is not like all the other girls (all of whom we meet in the film are largely horrible people).
The issue of low self-esteem is a popular one in today’s culture, but it’s not spooky, and Peirce’s decision to downplay the sexuality despite the R-rating is a confusing move when Carrie lands a prom date.
That rating is earned for all of the blood, which flows obsessively through the film, from the shower scene and mom’s self-inflicted wounds to bleeding Christ figurines and, of course, the prom finale.
Moore and Moretz are so good that they elevate the film’s status versus the blandness of the “mean girls,” a supporting character’s pregnancy surprise that makes no sense and Moretz being asked in the end to toy with her victims (using her powers like a female Magneto from “X-Men”) and show a level of mercy that is, honestly, disappointing in its “Are they saving people for a sequel?” obviousness.
“Carrie” receives a modern update, and she’s not quite as bad as I want her to be.