Remaking a film isn't always a bad thing.
Occasionally, in the hands of a skillfully imaginative and visionary filmmaker, a prior cinematic work can be improved upon by adding new depth, dimension and character development that the original might have been lacking.
However, if you're going to tackle an all-too-familiar, well done and arguably classic film to retrofit for an audience with fond memories of the original; you sure better bring something new to the mix other than a few perfunctory and unnecessary tweaks and changes. Therein, lies much of the problem with ( Boys Don't Cry ) director Kimberly Pierce's new take on Steven King's "Carrie".
The biggest hurtle facing Pierce's new vision is its clearly unavoidable comparison to director Brian De Palma's memorable 1976 adaptation of King's novel which featured stellar performances by Sissy Spacek as Carrie and Piper Laurie as her deranged mother. In DePalma's film, the painfully shy and emotionally repressed young teenager Carrie White was a fragile piece of flesh and blood china, sheltered and psychologically abused to the verge of shattering by her religiously fanatical parent.
In Pierce's new version, much of the same dynamic and more from DePalma's film is depicted and blatantly copied, but minus the depth, character development and technical finesse of the original.
Granted, Pierce does throw in a few tweaks at the beginning that diverge from the first film and hint at some promisingly deeper nuance. One such addition is an opening scene where Carrie's mother Margaret White ( Julianne Moore ) agonizingly gives birth to her infant daughter alone amid the blood-stained sheets of her own bed. The psychotic Margaret, who feels her baby is the product of her own self perceived sins, momentarily ponders killing her child in the seconds after birthing her. However, Margaret gazes at her child and finds her maternal instinct overpowers her self guilt and loathing. The scene gives some degree of backstory and bonding between Carrie and her mother that was left unexplored in DePalma's film.
As many already know, Carrie White ( Chloe Grace Moretz ) is so sheltered by her socially and sexually repressive mother, she has no idea that when she experiences her first menstrual period in her high school locker room shower; she at first believes she's bleeding to death internally, rather than undergoing a perfectly natural passage of maturing adolescence.
What follows of course, to those familiar with the novel and DePalma film, is that the shy and socially rejected Carrie is cruelly ridiculed, bullied and embarrassed by her classmates for her horrified and bewildered reaction to her very first period. Director Pierce tries to update the disturbing scene by having some of Carrie's classmates video record the incident on their cell phones and upload her embarrassment to You Tube for all to see.
From here, the story follows the familiar path of the original with Carrie realizing she has telekinesis; the power to move objects with her mind. As a result of the humiliation served upon Carrie in the locker room, the ringleader and popular bad girl Chris ( Portia Doubleday ) is suspended from school and prohibited from attending the upcoming senior prom. Chris' reluctant, but equally popular friend Sue ( Gabriella Wilde ) regrets her part in bullying Carrie and coaxes her hunky boyfriend ( Alex Russell ) to ask shy Carrie to the prom.
However, Chris isn't taking her punishment without taking Carrie White down with her, leading to what's arguably the most horrific and forever memorable practical joke in film history involving a bucket of pig's blood.
Unfortunately for director Pierce, she's trying to remake a perfectly well functioning wheel by following much of DePalma's creative vision; while also attempting to be different by simply ginning up the finale spectacle with new CGI effects to little effect improvement-wise.
Even worse, Pierce tinkers with the characters themselves in ways that fail to add depth; but rather only serve to diminish and detract from their unique personalities. Carrie's mother, Margaret is now not only an overly religious zealot bathing herself and Carrie in misplaced guilt; but also, she's a self-mutilating cutter doing additional outer damage to the body that already shelters her damaged psyche.
Still, the most egregious character change Pierce inflicts upon the audience is within Carrie herself. Carrie starts out, as in the first film, as an emotionally crippled and shy teen-child deferring to her mother's oppressive beliefs and demands. However, when Spacek's Carrie discovers her telekinetic powers, it's only something new for her to fear in her personal world as she works to repress its unwelcome presence in her life.
When Moretz' Carrie discovers those same powers, she embraces them with a degree of gusto, interest and experimentation to develop her telekinesis that undercuts her character's basic foundation of fragility. As Moretz' Carrie gains confidence from her powers, her fear of her mother rapidly diminishes in a way that comes across as merely a mildly rebellious teenager trying to find her freedom. It's a character change that's far too incongruous in comparison to the frail and frightened teen that Spacek played to perfection before.
Incredibly bothersome is the handling of the climatic prom scene and chaotic aftermath. DePalma gave the buildup to the scene's pivotal moment a sense of growing tension and suspense that evoked Hitchcock at his finest. In Pierce's hands, the prom scene is bland and tension free. Most of us know what's about to happen, even in the original film. However, rather than keep us on the edge of our seats anticipating that moment, Pierce rushes to the event as if it's just the first inconsequential cog in a wheel of repetitive and overdone visuals for shock value alone.
When Spacek's 1976 Carrie finally unleashes her repressed fury at the prom, her rage is presented as though she's not fully in control. It's as if her subconscious darker id takes over to do what Carrie herself is unable to do. In the process, everyone - bad, good and even overtly sympathetic to Carrie is unable to escape her deadly rage.
Conversely, under director Pierce's vision, Moretz' Carrie is a fully aware revenge machine, sparing those she likes and cares about and gleefully destroying those who despised and humiliated her.
Director Pierce has been quoted as seeing this version of Carrie as "a superhero origin story". She foolishly embraces that ill-conceived vision at one early point in the film by adding an instance where Carrie seems to have some form of "heat vision" or something, in addition to her telekinesis, to spot weld a bolt lock on a door closed. This ludicrous approach continues in the final scenes by having Moretz' Carrie sneer, glower, gesticulate and flail her powers and arms about as though the scene was storyboarded by artist Jack Kirby of Marvel Comics.
It's certainly a spectacle, even a bit fun at certain moments. But, it's also a sub-par and less effective development in Carrie's character up to that point.
Moretz and Moore do admirable work for the roles they're saddled with; doing their best to add some dimension to a screenplay where dimension is sorely lacking. The two actresses vainly attempt to elevate the burden of banality that weighs this film down. However despite their efforts, they cannot overcome director Pierce's misguided vision for this bloody mess of a remake.
The first Carrie film still stands the test of time. This remake only begs the question, "Why bother?"
It's proof that some things should be simply left well enough alone.
Tim Estiloz is a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Boston Online Film Critics Association. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimEstiloz and at www.TimEstiloz.com. - Be sure to LIKE his page on Facebook at: Tim Estiloz Film Reviews.