If you've read the 1974 Stephen King novel, Carrie, and you've seen the 1976 Brian De Palma film of that novel, you know that the book and that film are very different.
If you see the new 2013 version of Carrie starring Chloë Grace Moretz in the role that netted original star Sissy Spacek an Oscar nomination, you'll probably walk away feeling it has more in common with De Palma's film than King's novel.
King's novel, about a bullied telekinetic high school girl who endures one prank too many at the senior prom, was told in a series of episodic news reports, flashbacks and interviews for the most part. It was, dare I say, a sloppy yet entertaining first effort from the legendary King, and De Palma's film improved upon it.
The new film welcomes a few of the novel's plot points back into the storyline, but it takes a lot of the same liberties De Palma took with the nearly four-decade-old novel. In the new version, a few more characters survive the fiery Black Prom Tragedy, and one character might be pregnant. Otherwise, this feels very much like a remake of De Palma's movie rather than a faithful retelling of King's book.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. I'm a King fan, but having read Carrie after seeing the '76 film, I found the novel annoying and gimmicky. De Palma went to the core of that novel, massaged its great ideas, and made something akin to a horror masterpiece, with much thanks given to the brilliant Spacek.
Director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry) provides little reason for actually making the latest Carrie. Yes, it takes place in the present, where cellular phones and the Internet have become prevalent bullying weaponry, but much of the plot execution remains the same. In a lot of ways, this version even rips off De Palma.
Moretz (Kick-Ass) was a mere 15 years old during the filming, a little young for high school senior. While Spacek did an exemplary job playing younger than her then 26 years for the original, Moretz looks like a freshman crashing the senior prom.
Her performance is, in many ways, admirable. She captures the pain and confusion of a young girl tormented by her classmates, having received no valuable life coaching from her religious fanatic mother (played here by Julianne Moore in a role originated by the also Oscar-nominated Piper Laurie). Incidentally, Moretz just got through playing a tormented teen in this year's awful, equally bloody Kick-Ass 2.
Moore goes to a darker place with the role of Margaret White, as opposed to Laurie's campy, crazy take. This Margaret is far harder on herself (intentional cutting) and daughter, simmering with a dark, disturbing violence that makes her truly hateful. Moretz and Moore play well off each other during the movie's major confrontation scenes.
As for supporting performances, Peirce gets it right with the casting of Gabriella Wilde as the virtuous Sue Snell, the popular student who regrets bullying Carrie and asks her boyfriend, Tommy Ross (a charming Ansel Elgort), to escort Carrie to the prom, with deadly results. Judy Greer is OK as the gym teacher trying to get Carrie through everything in one piece.
On the downside, Portia Doubleday and Alex Russell are just caricatures as villains Chris Hargensen and Billy Nolan (notoriously played by the wild-eyed Nancy Allen and John Travolta in the '76 version). Their dull portrayals bring nothing new to the party. The infamous prom scene, where Carrie goes nuclear after getting doused with pig's blood, was an operatic, gloriously torturous, expertly prolonged hell in De Palma's movie. The new version feels hastily edited and glossed over with a CGI polish. It totally misses the mark, and is the final reason the remake is mediocre at best.
I suppose if you've never seen De Palma's film, the 2013 version might score higher with you. So, yeah, this review is coming to you from a guy who holds the original in high regard.
While the remake is, at times, skillfully made, its resources could have been put to better cinematic use. Like, say, an actual big screen adaptation of King's great novel, The Stand. A TV miniseries starring Molly Ringwald just won't do!