Back in 1998 Gus Van Sant directed a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's classic horror flick "Psycho," which simply duplicated the original almost shot-for-shot, without adding to or changing or reinterpreting the material. Kimberly Peirce accomplishes much the same result in her new picture, "Carrie," a remake of Brian De Palma's 1976 film; like Van Sant she pretty much copies the first movie without any significant changes in plot, characters, or theme. Why both directors should choose such a route remains a mystery, known perhaps only to Hollywood insiders.
Based on Stephen King's cleverly constructed breakthrough novel, "Carrie" represented a kind of breakthrough for De Palma as well. His relatively straightforward adaptation collected a number of positive reviews and performed well at the box office, especially with the teenage audience that embraces horror, and in effect launched two successful careers. King must now be one of the most productive and not incidentally one of the richest novelists in the world, while De Palma has created a string of brilliant Hitchcockian thrillers.
Aside from a weird and grisly prologue and a slightly different epilogue, Peirce's "Carrie" closely follows the original. The action proper opens with Carrie White (Chloë Grace Moretz), a shy loner and a misfit, cowering timidly, isolated from everyone else in her high-school gym class. In the showers she experiences her first menstrual period and, knowing nothing about her body or anything involving sexuality, panics and screams, which provokes the scorn of her cruel classmates, who mock her and pelt her with sanitary napkins.
The humiliation more or less accidentally initiates the first inklings of Carrie's special gift of telekinesis, which takes her a while to understand and master. Carrie's home life explains her difference from her classmates and her consequent loneliness; her mother, Margaret (Julianne Moore), is a religious fanatic who prevents her daughter from participating in anything like the normal life of a high-school kid. She constantly quotes (actually misquotes) the Bible, dwelling on evil and punishment, and when she thinks her daughter has sinned, locks her in a closet to pray for forgiveness.
When Sue (Gabriella Wilde), one of Carrie's classmates who regrets her participation in the taunting, persuades her boyfriend Tommy (Ansel Elgort) to invite Carrie to the prom, the cruelty of her classmates brings on a terrible climax. Her chief tormentor, Chris (Portia Doubleday), suspended for her attack on Carrie, along with a crew of louts, hatches a scheme of bloody revenge. Carrie's telekinetic powers inspire her to respond out of anger and despair with her own act of ultimately apocalyptic vengeance.
Although the movie follows its model closely, perhaps because of familiarity with the original, it lacks the edge, the emotional impact, and of course the shock of De Palma's work. Although no longer than its predecessor, it seems to drag slowly toward its entirely predictable climax, then provides a most perfunctory commentary on the action. The whole work suggests that its makers really didn't care too much about their picture and had no interest in trying anything novel or original.
The exaggeration of the performances contrasts with the lackluster repetition of just about everything else. Prettier than Sissy Spacek, Hollywood's greatest waif, who played the original Carrie, Chloë Grace Moretz pretends too obviously to be the plain shrinking violet, and when she blossoms at the prom she glows as Spacek did not. Julianne Moore, looking uncharacteristically unattractive and behaving hysterically most of the time, grows very tiresome very early in the movie. The rest of Carrie's classmates look far too old to be in high school, some of them appear to be pushing 30, a just a bit aged for the senior prom.
Remakes grow out of a long tradition in the film industry and despite conventional wisdom, don't always fail to match up to or even improve on their originals. Some in fact achieve their own excellence — "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," for example, or, much earlier, "The Thief of Bagdad." Those pictures actually reinterpret the material from the past and make something new, different, and entirely satisfying out of a proven success, no mean achievement. In her remake, Kimberly Peirce, on the other hand, only repeats the past, a most unrewarding endeavor.