Sunday, December 17, 2017

Haunted by the original

Director Kimberly Peirce (Girls Don't Cry) sees Stephen King's Carrie through the lens of today's bullying epidemic and all the hand-wringing that has followed it.

This remake of the film that made Brian De Palma famous — neither version hews that closely to the King novella — is reasonably well cast but off-tone, a vengeance tale with a Carrie who is coming to grips with her puberty-linked telekinetic powers. She's been to the library. She's done her research.

Chloe Grace Moretz isn't subtle in the title role, a cowering, scowling girl who walks the halls and skulks through her classes almost in the fetal position, an outsider fearful of her classmates and the religious fanatic mother (Julianne Moore) who is raising her.

Carrie is bullied, and if you remember the story, it's an unforgettable example of that mean teen passion, involving menstrual cycles, the locker room, mean-girl peers and — in a modern touch — cellphone video. Carrie is wary of the other kids, especially Chris (Portia Doubleday), a teen who has somehow tanned herself orange for some scenes.

Chris' pal Sue (Gabriella Wilde) is the mean girl with a conscience, gorgeous but full of regret over what happened in that locker room. Ansel Elgort is Tommy, Sue's jock boyfriend, somebody who might actually share her compassion for poor, outcast Carrie White.

Peirce isn't at home in the genre and makes that plain all too often, giving away her punches, stumbling to maintain the tone and any sense of mystery about what is coming in this very familiar tale. She delights in unnerving, bloody close-ups and takes pains to not overly sexualize the sexually active girls of Ewen High.

The real terror comes from the mother-daughter relationship, with Moore bewitchingly unhinged as a woman naive to the world outside her fundamentalism and harsh in her judgments of it.

"These are GODless times," she inveighs at a customer at the dry cleaners where she works, jabbing and scratching her arms and legs, drawing blood to atone for her own sins. She's a harridan, and every scene with Carrie has you fearing some fresh, potentially lethal cruelty from her mother.

So yes, even if you know how this story goes, there are moments that work wickedly well in between the needlessly drawn out ones, by which I mean the entire, predictable third act.

Moretz (Kick-Ass) doesn't engender much sympathy. But when Tommy asks Carrie to the prom with a disarming charm (at Sue's gallant suggestion) and Carrie's caring gym teacher (Judy Greer) counsels caution and everybody's dancing and having a good time, you really do wish these kids had spent more time looking for fire-resistant prom dresses.

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