Chloe Moretz tips the hand of the Carrie remake from the very beginning. The young actress who's played a tough vampire (Let Me In), a tough assassin (Kick-Ass) and a tough little French girl (Hugo) is the closest thing we have to an adolescent action heroine, and even if you didn't know that Carrie ends at prom with a bucket of blood and an unholy revenge, you'd guess it from Moretz's casting alone. Her presence could have allowed this Carrie remake to head off in a bold new direction from the iconic Sissy Spacek-starring version, but she instead represents its meager intentions, a coat of modernity slapped on a story that didn't need it.
Kimberly Peirce, the director who broke out with Boys Don't Cry and last made Stop-Loss, brings some of her own wit and resonance to the story, but you have to look hard to find it. The film starts strong, not in the famous shower scene but on Carrie's mother Margaret (Julianne Moore) giving birth to the baby she assumed was God cursing her with cancer. The shot that reveals the baby between her legs, and Margaret's impulsive grabbing of scissors immediately after, are the film's most original and unsettling images, and the scene's blood foreshadows Carrie's own terror about her body and her fraught relationship with her mom better than any dialogue could have.
After that brisk opening, though, it's back to the paces you're expecting, often shot and directed as direct lifts from Brian De Palma's 1976 scene. Carrie botches the class volleyball game at school, then discovers she's had her first period in the gym shower; the other girls respond by throwing tampons at her, chanting "Plug it up!" and filming the whole thing for YouTube (OK, that last part is new). Carrie gets sympathy from gym teacher Miss Desjardin (Judy Greer) and gentle classmate Sue (Gabriella Wilde), but she's also targeted in a bizarre vendetta by Chris (Portia Doubleday), a mean girl with so much irrational anger she's a horror movie villain unto herself. While Sue convinces her boyfriend Tommy (Ansel Elgort) to take Carrie to prom as a gesture of goodwill, Chris plays a visit to the pig farm and plots Carrie's coronation as prom queen. The blood is a little thicker this time, and Carrie's reaction a bit more aided by special effects, but it goes about as badly as you remember it.
Fans of the original Stephen King novella might appreciate some nods to the book that weren't in Brian de Palma's 1976 film, from Miss Desjardin's name to the slightly more expanded carnage after the prom to the fate of kindly Sue Snell. But those bits are essentially Astoturf to allow this Carrie to call itself a new adaptation instead of what it really is: an unfortunately slavish and seemingly callow remake of the iconic de Palma film. So many shots and sets seem lifted directly from 1976, from the camera angles in the shower scene to the decor inside Carrie's home (sure, they're religious fundamentalists, but would nothing have really changed since?) The new elements that Peirce brings, like a more nuanced understanding of teen girl cruelty and a bit more sympathy for Margaret, are completely outweighed by the beat-for-beat repeats of de Palma's film. With bullying all over the headlines and even in the post-Columbine era, there's massive potential for a Carrie that changes up the playbook. But this one seems all too happy to ape the successful first one, aiming for teenagers who might have never seen the original to begin with.
There is something fun about seeing Carrie's wrath aided by modern special effects, where electric wires can dance across the gym floor and a simple car crash can turn grisly with simple slo-mo and CGI sweetening. Peirce might have made a fantastic horror movie about horrible teenage girls, but she and the actors alike are trapped within a framework that nobody seems brave enough to break out of.