Kimberly Peirce’s utterly botched remake — and, yes, that’s what it is — of Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) probably isn’t the worst movie of 2013, but it may well be the most obnoxious. Certainly, it’s the most pointless. I admit: I’m a huge admirer of De Palma’s movie, so I wasn’t expecting much out of this one. It didn’t look good in the trailers. It seemed miscast. But at worst, I was expecting passive mediocrity. Instead, I got something actively bad. Any notion that this was going to be a more faithful version of the novel and not a remake, but a “reimagining,” went south very fast. And if you’re expecting to see this Carrie (Chloë Grace Moretz) finish up by largely destroying an entire town as she did in the book, forget it now. No, this is just a pale copy of the original film (using much of the original screenplay) with a few graceless fripperies and a little, mostly pointless, updating. It should be shunned, even for purposes of curiosity.
The film is getting a certain amount of slack, it seems, because it’s (sort of) about bullying, which is a hot topic these days. Of course, the story has always had these elements — bullying is hardly a new phenomenon. Including a YouTube video of Carrie being humiliated doesn’t actually add anything, especially since it goes nowhere. It merely shows that the movie is in tune with the times (and with other movies since the video does show up on the monitors at the prom — a gag right out of the vapid 2010 rom-com You Again). None of the film’s modern touches add a blessed thing.
There’s also a current tendency to want to champion women filmmakers (as long as it’s not Across the Universe‘s Julie Taymor, of course) out of proportion to their accomplishments, and I’m very much afraid that’s the case here with Kimberly Peirce. Her great idea is to revamp Carrie as a super-hero origins story. (Smack forehead here.) That’s not only as untenable as it sounds, but turns Carrie from a confused, damaged girl acting out of barely controlled — and only dimly understood — rage into a kind of calculating monster. It also assures us a lot of pointless special-effects footage of levitating books and beds. The minute Carrie starts choosing her victims, she becomes less a victim than a vigilante.
Assuming you’ve seen the original, the biggest problem is that nothing here works as well as the 37-year-old movie. It all feels like a cheesy copy that’s been Xeroxed a few too many times. The film’s centerpiece — the prom — is an outright disaster. De Palma’s prom was an event. It contained excitement, momentary enchantment, even a brief hope that Carrie’s happiness might be more than fleeting. It had a true humanity that’s lacking here. Carrie’s touching conversation with the coach (TV actress Judy Greer) is cut down to nothing. Her first (and last) dance is no longer a thing of hallucinatory magic. There’s no buildup to the epic pig’s blood moment. The original was a masterpiece of suspense, and evoked much more effectively by Rob Zombie in his 2009 animated The Haunted World of El Superbeasto. Here it just happens — and shooting it like a TV ad where the action keeps repeating itself does it no favors, nor does the appallingly bad CGI enhancement of the spilling blood.
Is anything about this Carrie an improvement? Well, I guess the lack of 1970s powder-blue tuxedos is a plus, but that’s a pretty bad trade. Chloë Grace Moretz may be more age-appropriate than Sissy Spacek, but she’s not convincing as a wallflower. And she’s certainly not as heartbreakingly tragic. Julianne Moore’s take on Margaret White lacks the raw power of Piper Laurie’s original. The other performances are negligible. None are improvements. Everything about the movie is just plain inferior: the acting, the direction, the production value, the cinematography, the music. The original’s landmark shock ending is, here, a half-assed and half-hearted CGI jolt that seems (God forbid) to suggest a sequel. Someone is bound to chime in with, “It needs to be judged on its own merits,” but why should it be? The De Palma film exists. I can’t forget I’ve seen it, and I’m not going to try to pretend otherwise. Plus, this film is such a poor copy that comparison is inevitable. Rated R for bloody violence, disturbing images, language and some sexual content.