Kimberly Peirce changes almost nothing in her rallying remake of Brian De Palma’s classic about a troubled telekinetic teenager. She doesn’t have to. Yes, now the mean girls who pelt Carrie with tampons upload a cell phone video of the attack, and the well-meaning jock who squires the school outcast to prom compares himself to Tim Tebow. But the big difference is the culture around Carrie. In 2013, bullying is the hot-topic high school problem—even Justin Bieber bravely called it “a terrible thing”—which gives Peirce, the empathetic director of Boys Don’t Cry, the audience’s blessing to make Carrie’s anguished vengeance extra gory.
Star Chloë Grace Moretz doesn’t have the alien eeriness of young Sissy Spacek, who was 26 and married when she played the doomed virgin. A beautiful, broad-shouldered blonde who’s already slain 80 dudes onscreen in Kick-Ass and Kick-Ass 2, Moretz has to work harder to sell Carrie’s victim status, hunching herself in half, crossing her elbows tight across her chest, and frizzing her hair into a poof. It doesn’t quite work, so it’s a relief to see her smile when her gym teacher (Judy Greer) convinces her she’d be gorgeous with a little blush. We all know what’s coming, which makes Moretz’s tentative fantasies of acceptance as gutting as the indiscriminate massacre that follows. After the betrayed girl slams shut the gymnasium doors, we can’t help but think of the elaborate kill lists that school shooters leave behind before they give up and just start spraying everyone.
When De Palma shot the original in 1976, the sexual revolution had trickled down to the suburbs. Today, a new puritanism is trickling back up, with politicians and religious leaders trying to keep a new generation of young women from learning how their bodies work.
Sure, among her senior class Carrie’s a weirdo, but her modest homemade clothes wouldn’t be that out of place on an episode of 19 and Counting, and her mom’s moral code would fit right in with the Westboro Baptist Church (who, like Julianne Moore’s character, also believe in home-schooling). Which means what’s scariest about Carrie in 2013 isn’t that this wounded teenage girl has the power to kill—it’s that there are thousands of girls like her with no power at all.