[Note to readers: This review contains what few spoilers can be said to exist in the discussion of a nearly identical remake of a nearly 40 year-old film. Stop reading now if you can't live with that.]
Actors and directors want to work. You can't blame them for that. Kimberly Peirce, riding the hot-new-filmmaker high after her Oscar-winning debut, 1999's Boys Don't Cry, took years to get another film in theaters, 2008's little-seen Iraq War drama, Stop-Loss. And that was five years ago. So forgive her for taking the payday. In fact, it probably felt like something right in her wheelhouse, the opportunity to freshly stamp and rev up the feminist elements of the classic 1976 Brian DePalma adaptation of Stephen King's novel, a chance to re-imagine its tortured heroine as a young woman discovering her strength.
That's nice to hope for. But it's not why Carrie came back.
Carrie is back in theaters again because it's a money-printing machine, which means that slight stylistic decisions aside, there's no bold re-imagining happening here. Beat for beat, it's very nearly the same film, only stripped of the harsher details that make the 1976 version so painful and indelible. That version's Carrie (Sissy Spacek) lived in a daily horror show with a hugely cruel and abusive mother (Piper Laurie) so obsessed with the ecstasy of squirming under the thumb of an angry God that she turned her daughter into a living ghost. Carrie is violently bullied to the point of breaking and, when she discovers her supernatural powers of telekinesis, she fears them. They overwhelm her ability to control the outcome, resulting in senseless death even for characters who were never cruel to her at all. That sad unfairness that accompanies both life and death, and the random nature of violence uncoiled, make DePalma's film a prickly, difficult experience almost 40 years later. When Carrie snaps she's Travis Bickle's female doppelganger. There's a reason outsiders and the bullied cheer that prom scene, even as they experience simultaneous sorrow for the nice gym teacher (Betty Buckley) who gets it.
So what's the point, then, of a new Carrie with a clearer, more assured sense of self (Chloe Grace Moretz, who commits fully to the character when it's time to throw down, reveling in her ability to crush all her enemies), a cleaner divvying up of the killed and not-killed when her inevitable death-rampage takes place , and a mother (Julianne Moore, too frail to register) who comes off as more sadly crazy than a terrifying manifestation of a sadistic God made flesh? Where does the bummer ending (you know the one, same as before) fit in when it feels like the film is bending over backwards to be kinder, gentler and provide this burdened child a way out?
Answer: there isn't one. It's lifeless, dull, sanded-down and expected, another unsurprising, irrelevant product for the movie-watching market to regard with curiosity and, eventually, deirision after it vacuums up all that opening weekend teen-cash. Remember, somebody thought remaking A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th were good ideas too. You do remember those, right? No? Exactly.