Aimed at captivating a new generation of viewers unfamiliar with the tale of a cruelly unloved high-schooler who unleashes telekinetic revenge on her classmates, director Kimberly Peirce's intermittently effective third feature eschews De Palma's diabolical wit and voluptuous style in favor of a somber, straight-faced retelling, steeped in a now-familiar horror-movie idiom of sharp objects, shuddering sound effects and dark rivulets of blood.
While it can't hope to match the galvanizing impact of its predecessors, Peirce's film works for a considerable stretch as a derivative but impressively coherent vision.
Certainly there's a case to be made for revisiting "Carrie" now, given the alarming prevalence of teenage bullying, public cyber-humiliation and fatal acts of retaliation in the post-Columbine era. Chief among the film's selling points are an intensely committed Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore, enacting a subtler, more psychologically insidious take on the mother-daughter relationship immortalized by Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie.
That twisted character dynamic looms over the proceedings from the opening childbirth scene, which quickly familiarizes the viewer with the film's menstrual color scheme and establishes Margaret White (Moore) as a dangerous religious fanatic, who receives her infant daughter as divine punishment for her sexual sins.
Years later, the girl has grown up to be the painfully shy and awkward Carrie (Moretz), whose crucible of suffering onscreen begins and ends with an outpouring of blood.
In one of a handful of shrewd 21st-century innovations devised by screenwriters Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Carrie's locker-room humiliation at the hands of her female classmates is captured on video and quickly goes viral, setting off a chain of events that will ultimately bring about the story's fiery prom-night climax.
Up until that epic conflagration which seems to play out at twice the length it did in the first film, and with far more overkill "Carrie" sustains interest as a moody psychological/paranormal drama with a melancholy undertow that at times tilts into genuine pathos.
If the film never quite shakes off the feeling of having been constructed from a well-worn blueprint, it has a sensitive interpreter in Peirce, who offers a fresh, intelligent spin on certain key aspects of a largely familiar tale.
Notably, De Palma's luridly funny sensibility is little in evidence; Peirce has excised every dirty chuckle and whisper of camp from the material, nudging the story in a more textured, realistic direction. Both the hateful Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) and conflicted good girl Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) are fleshed out with a touch more nuance than usual. cultivating her telekinetic powers, in "Exorcist"-style levitation scenes.
Between "Carrie" and "What Maisie Knew," Moore is on a bit of a bad-mama roll, and rather than trying to compete with Piper Laurie's fire-and-brimstone bellow, she acts with a hushed, feverish intensity.
For her part, Moretz can scarcely be blamed for falling short of one of the most iconic performances in horror cinema; Spacek may have given the remake her blessing (as has De Palma), but no other actress could capture that hauntingly lost quality she brought to the role of Carrie White.
By contrast, Moretz, superficially deglammed with a strawberry-blonde mop, is still rather too comely to resemble the pimply, slightly overweight figure described in King's novel, and her efforts to look downcast and withdrawn strain credulity at first. Still, the actress is canny and sympathetic enough that she eventually slips under Carrie's skin.
"Carrie," a Sony/Screen Gems release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for "bloody violence, disturbing images, language and some sexual content." Running time: 100 minutes.
MPAA rating definition for R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.