Warning: as the original has been out for almost 40 years and the general plot is more or less common knowledge, this review contains a few spoilers.
Carrie was Stephen King's big break. It sold more than a million copies when it was published in paperback in 1974. Its first film adaptation in 1976 was Brian De Palma's first true commercial success, earning $33.8 million at the box office and two Oscar nominations for its leads. And it ignited an inkstorm of critical debate, not least because it was the first movie to deal explicitly with menstruation. Over the past thirty years it has become a bit of a playground for film theorists strung out on a witches batch of hardline feminism, Marxism, and post-Freudianism (with some semiotics sprinkled on top).
But there's room at this party for the theologians, especially with Kimberly Peirce's (Boys Don't Cry, Stop-Loss) decent new adaptation. She brings a feminist slant to the film—and allows some pleasant rays of grace into the story that are all her own. Stylistically, this version can't touch De Palma's—but it's a pleasant (and chilling) enough remake considering the shoes she had to fill.
This suburban legend is about ugly duckling Carrie White (played by Chloe Grace Moretz this time around) and her abusive religious mother Margaret (Julianne Moore). One day in the showers after gym class, Carrie gets her period for the first time. Because her mother never explained it to her, Carrie believes she is bleeding to death and breaks into hysterics, begging her mean-girl classmates for help. Instead the girls, led by Chris (Portia Doubleday) and Sue (Gabriella Wilde), pelt Carrie with tampons and chant "Plug it up! Plug it up!" in an iconic scene of film history.
While traumatic, this passage into womanhood activates Carrie's latent telekinetic powers. If she concentrates, she can make things move. Kindly gym teacher Ms. Desjardin (Judy Greer) punishes the girls and takes Carrie under her wing. And things actually seem to look up for Carrie when lacrosse star and hunky-bro extraordinaire Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort) asks her to the prom. But Chris has a prank planned that will make Carrie . . . angry.
Peirce's remake is pitched as a return to King's original story for modern audiences—a pure-of-heart adaption reeking of fidelity to the text. But don't let that fool you: this version knows its cinematic predecessor, too. Peirce makes some strong choices of her own, and is in full, sometimes frame-by-frame conversation with De Palma's movie.
Peirce updates the telling for a modern audience, incorporating cyber-bullying and texting while maintaining the creepy comedy tone and the pace of a short story (King's book was only 200 pages). She adds some good jokes of her own—the literal Bible-thumping is done cleverly, without hitting viewers over the head. And she has a few inventive ways of offing teenagers (you'll be scared to sit on bleachers ever again).