Review of Kimberly Peirce’s Carrie

Reviewed by Moira Jean Sullivan

This review is part of double feature on the film Carrie. Please check out Moira Jean Sullivan’s interview with director Kimberly Peirce.

Carrie (2013). USA, 100 minutes. Directed by Kimberly Peirce. Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Gabriella Wilde, Judy Greer, Portia Doubleday, and Ansel Elgort.

The Carrie that Stephen King based his novel on in 1974 committed suicide. King wrote that a girl in his class wore the same outfit to school every day and was mercilessly teased—even when one day she wore something stylish. Later she married and eventually killed herself.

Bullying has reached such magnified dimensions with digital media today that a modern day Carrie needs special skills to cope with her malicious classmates. As in Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation of the film, in the new Carrie (2013), Kimberly Peirce has equipped her lead character with an advanced state of telekinesis, where she can move objects at will. Called superpowers this time around, Carrie’s telekinesis is an enlargement on the King novel and its previous adaptation. An absent father, an emotionally disturbed mother, and brutal young classmates can certainly transform a young woman. Such disadvantages in one’s path are often the fertile ground for the making of a superhero or villain. Telekinetic powers are clearly a way out of the abuse. Carrie can be seen at the library researching about her powers and a classmate even tells her where she can find audiovisual material on the net. She reminds her mother that her grandmother had this power.

Chloë Grace Moretz is 16, the same age as King’s character in Peirce’s update. She gradually becomes the girl that outsmarts her mother, locks her in the prayer closet to contemplate Jesus and her sins, and later lays the town of Chamberlain to waste. Moretz does extremely well in all of this.

Julianne Moore as Margaret White is not only a religiously twisted woman, but her self-mutilation and angst are more graphic and cathartic than in De Palma’s version. She is shown mutilating herself with the accouterments of her profession, seam rippers and all, and it is clear her relentless religious piety not only causes suffering to herself but her daughter whom she locks in a prayer closet. Moore may even get an Oscar nod for this.

On the athletic field at Carrie’s school are fashion conscious young women—a narcissistic and often brutal heterosexual pack herd, where everyone is ranked according to an idiosyncratic value system. In the real estate of the entertainment business, Kimberly Peirce reports, there wasn’t room for much character diversity in her production budget. She explains that Carrie already deviates from the norm. These are the peers that can make a young woman’s high school experience a nightmare. At the annual ritual, the high school prom, the same heteronormative crowd gathers.

The standout characters of Peirce’s Carrie include the gym teacher—Ms. Desjardin (Judy Greer) and the bad girl Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday).   The good girl Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) prompts her boyfriend Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort) to take Carrie to the prom.  Everything in this fresh look at the book has been revamped and the proof of its success can be demonstrated by taking a nostalgic look at the 24-year-old Sissy Spacek as Carrie in De Palma’s version.  A remake can be a welcome addition and Peirce’s film is just that. The cinematography, mise-en-scène, art direction, and character development are modernized, making the film accessible to today’s youth, particularly the reality of cyberbullying.

King, who wrote the novel as a high school teacher, called it “a cookie baked by a first grader.”  He had insecurities about the popularity of Carrie because is was about a girl with “menstrual problems,” as he put it. But Peirce has cleverly updated the real estate in a film that comes in second place in the Carrie franchise. The young Carrie played by Chlöe Grace Moretz and the riveting performance of Julianne More as Margaret are this remake’s strongest assets and make it worth watching this new take on the story of an unforgettable girl, who challenges her mother, teachers and classmates in her quest for self-determination.

Check out Moira Jean Sullivan’s interview with director Kimberly Peirce. You can also visit Moira’s profile and the film’s website.