In fact, there’s only a little exploitation in this newest adaptation of Stephen King’s first novel which otherwise hews close enough to the book to absorb the best elements of its tragedy, but like Carrie (Moretz) herself, it flails about and ultimately fails in developing its own personality.
Carrie has reason to flail. She is so unschooled in the ways of the world she doesn’t even realize what menstruating for the first time means; her religious zealot of a mother (Moore) is unable to communicate with her (or anyone) in any meaningful way. Which is the real tragedy of King’s tail; people aim real human emotions at each other with good intentions–recognizing them as the only weapon against the isolation we’re born into–but they just keep missing, and missing terribly. No one knows what anyone means and like most movie teenagers, they fear to try least they open themselves up for people like lead bully Chris (Doubleday) who’ve decided the best defense against those feelings is a strong offense and try to stamp it out whenever it pops up.
To be fair, no one really does know what it means when Carrie gets her period because it turns out the action also unleashes her latent telekinetic ability as King’s story sticks closely to the rule that superpowers are mostly bestowed on the least stable among us. To be fair to King, that wasn’t nearly the cliché in the 1970s that it has become, but director Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don’t Cry”) has not bothered to update the story much for the changes which have been wrought since it’s time, even while moving the action forward to the present day. That leaves us with clichés like Carrie learning about her power through the internet and repetitive conversations about sin with her mother who can’t talk about anything else and is thus unbelievable to anyone who hasn’t met such a person in real life. Most of “Carrie’s” adults suffer from that problem, with only Judy Greer’s supportive gym teacher given anything like a personality; the rest to bend bumbling principals or rich lawyers who let their kids get away with anything and the like.
They are thankfully balanced out by the teenagers themselves who, besides actually looking like teenagers for once, actually take time to wonder why they are the way they are, with actors who can pull it off. Most of that is wrapped up in Sue (Wilde), who regrets taking part in Carrie’s torment and struggles to overcome the gulf between them in penance in the sort of development that Carrie herself could use a lot more of, instead of performing the de rigueur Google search and looking longingly at dresses. Moretz is actually quite good in the role with a look like a stray puppy that longs for a home but has been kicked some many times it has no choice but to lash out at anyone who comes near. Once she gets invited to prom by Sue’s boyfriend, the stage is set for a horrific piece of schadenfreude, like an out of control train on its way down the hill.
But it’s never going to arrive. The problem with horror movies is that they want to show you bad things while preventing you from feeling bad about seeing them, which certainly makes them easier to enjoy, but harder to take anything away from. King, and Peirce, have given Carrie a number of people who ‘have it coming’ to lash out at and do their best to protect anyone who doesn’t as she engages in her classic rampage (with so many angles on pig’s blood falling it stops being real and becomes a joke) which is a bit heavy on CGI, but not distractingly so.
It’s all very true to the book, but we’ve had the straightforward adaptation of “Carrie” already; if you really are going to go back over old ground, at least go by a different route. The filmmakers have an opportunity to do a second draft, to make a stronger argument while staying true to the spirit, but that appears to be a step too far for them. You’ll get exactly what you’re expecting from “Carrie” and nothing else.