They don't re-make 'em like they used to. Case in point: Kimberly Peirce's new version of Carrie is boring, gross and not at all scary. Brian De Palma's 1976 original remains a horror classic and scary as hell.
Tedium is the worst thing a horror movie can impose on an audience. Peirce manages to turn Stephen King's famous novel into a slog and a grind. We expected better. Peirce made Boys Don't Cry. Even her post-war movie Stop-Loss worked better.
The frustrating thing is that Peirce started with an interesting cast for Carrie. Oscar-calibre actress Julianne Moore plays Carrie White's abusive mom, the sicko religious extremist who believes her daughter is the spawn of Satan. The new Carrie is Chloe Grace Moretz, who plays Hit-Girl in the Kick Ass movies and made her mark in a serious role in Hugo.
Both Moore and Moretz are terrible in Carrie. Not because they cannot act. It is because the tone for the characters in the re-imagined screenplay, and the way Peirce directs the cast, are both off the mark. Moore is so relentless and robotic she turns into a cliche. Moretz's portrayal of Carrie seems to waver and wobble, poised somewhere between sheltered girl and modern teen. When Carrie morphs from naive victim to enraged victimizer in this version, it plays like a cartoon more than a heightened reality.
Compare these core performances to the original Carrie. Piper Laurie was eerie and creepy as mom in 1976. Sissy Spacek absolutely nailed the telekinetic transition for Carrie. And the menstrual blood scene in the high school gym shower still ranks as one of the most dramatic and humiliating sequences ever filmed about teenaged cruelty.
That scene, and the whole timeline of the new movie, is updated. This time around, the same bitch-queen who later wreaks her bloody revenge on Carrie now shoots the humiliation on her cell phone. No surprise, she later posts it on the Internet.
That kind of updating is no bother. King's story can move to any decade and still be effective. That also means we do not have to see the hideous haircuts and silly clothes of the 1970s.
But the pivotal shower scene just does not feel authentic in the new Carrie. Especially when the gym teacher rudely slaps Carrie in the face to stop her sobbing. Sorry, I cannot buy that kind of adult abuse in this situation in 2013. Nor do I accept the stupid fumbling of the school principal in handling the crisis. Re-imagining the story in the 2010s means taking a more modern view of everything, not just hair, clothes and electronics.
Another interesting but disappointing aspect of the new Carrie is how excessive the horror sequences have become. Funnily enough, De Palma has always been accused of being theatrical and excessive, yet his Carrie seems restrained in comparison. Peirce and her team take things to special effects extremes. It is not enough to kill some of her victims once in the final scenes, Carrie has to mutilate, burn and blow up their bodies, too.
The new Carrie is still horror, but sometimes it is horrible.