by Glenn Lovell
If anything, Stephen King’s “Carrie” feels more timely today than it did in the mid-1970s. When it first reached the screen with a very young Sissy Spacek as the title character and Brian De Palma in the director’s chair, the adaptation of King’s first bestseller felt like a yummy, blood-splattered twist on “Cinderella,” with Spacek as the outcast high-schooler who finds herself, for a moment, the queen of the ball.
Today, in the age of social media and cyber-bullying, “Carrie” could be a PSA with a cautionary message to anyone heartless enough to heckle the class pariah.
The “in-crowd” at Maine’s Ewen High certainly pays a stiff price in this new version. Indeed, their prom-night comeuppance ‒ which includes death by bleachers, stampede and boa-like electrical lines ‒ should make the film required viewing at high schools around the country.
The new “Carrie,” directed by Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don’t Cry” ‒ another film about bullying), is also considerably more sadistic and bloody than the original. No surprise here. Chloë Grace Moretz of the “Kick Ass” movies turns in a variation on her Hit-Girl persona. Unlike the waif-like Spacek, who never knows quite what to make of her “witch-y” telekinetic powers, Moretz seems to glow when she figures out she can make books levitate and knives fly. She does more than take revenge; she conducts the carnage, like Mickey as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. You might even say she’s empowered.
The estimable Julianne Moore plays Carrie’s crazed, Scriptures-spouting mother. Moore has big shoes to fill ‒ Piper Laurie fairly made our skin crawl in the original ‒ but she more than fits the bill, spewing fire-and-brimstone even as she (ugh!) mutilates herself. Rounding out the cast are Portia Doubleday as the most unrepentant of the bullies, Gabriella Wilde and Ansel Elgort as the school’s most popular couple, who attempts to make amends for their classmates’ thoughtless conduct, and, as the juvy once played by John Travolta, a thoroughly repulsive Alex Russell.
Though technically superior to the De Palma original, which predated CG effects, the new “Carrie” delivers shocks by rote. We’ve seen most of this before, save for the water cooler in the principal’s offers that bubbles and explodes and the kitchen utensils that stand at attention midair before finding their mark. Ouch, and double-ouch!
CARRIE ✮✮ With Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Gabriella Wilde, Ansel Elgort, Portia Doubleday. Directed by Kimberly Peirce; scripted by Lawrence D. Cohen, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa from Stephen King novel. 100 min. Rated R (for profanity, violence, climactic bloodbath)