'Carrie' review: Better than the original

Ernest Wilkins and Matt Pais review director Steve McQueen's brilliant "12 Years a Slave" and the unexpectedly strong new adaptation of the Stephen King classic "Carrie."

***1/2 (out of four)

Not just the best horror in ages but a remarkably astute teen drama, “Carrie” will make those who have seen Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel see the story with entirely different eyes. That tone-deaf, unjustly beloved original film is weak sauce. The new, modernized interpretation is hot lava.

That starts with the female empowerment and impending doom achieved by director Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don’t Cry”) and writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who subtly investigate the realities of teen malice with no interest in cliche. As introverted Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz) bears the weight of destructive high school ridicule, it’s the gorgeous, popular blonde Sue (Gabriella Wilde) who regrets her cruelty and discovers the evil of her entitled brunette friend Chris (Portia Doubleday). Later, in the well-known climactic sequence that’s chilling without resorting to needless gruesomeness, the shifting flickers of conscience between Chris and her boyfriend, Billy (Alex Russell), are two of the numerous times when this “Carrie” adds depth to a haunting cautionary tale of bullying.

In her highest-profile role to date, Moretz effectively navigates Carrie’s public and private crossroads. While her conservative, abusive mother (Julianne Moore) both literally and figuratively hits her daughter in the face with a bible, Carrie longs to live outside the wrath. A delicately winning turn from Ansel Elgort (“Divergent”) as Sue’s boyfriend, Tommy, who Sue convinces to take Carrie to the prom, movingly displays the transition from charity to sincerity. And not in a “She’s All That” kind of way.

Eventually “Carrie,” which nicely incorporates YouTube and texting but could have experimented further with Carrie embracing her telekinetic abilities, gets too blunt. Still, it’s an important message: Teenagers must be both freed and overseen, and people can only handle so much. Especially in the case of Carrie, who discovers goodness in the world only to have her vulnerability return with a vengeance. Her story is not just that of a girl whose mom never taught her about her period; it’s about the systematic destruction of a spirit just as it’s finally seen a silver lining.

It reminds me of the “Simpsons” episode when Marge comments, “Kids can be so cruel.” Overhearing and perhaps deliberately misunderstanding her, Bart exclaims, “We can? Thanks, mom!” Only later do adolescents realize what they’ve done, and it takes guts—just like this revitalized, Greek-tragedy-level “Carrie”—to right a wrong of the past. 

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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