Film Review: Carrie

'Boys Don't Cry' director Kimberly Peirce gives 'Carrie' a savvy makeover for the 'Mean Girls' generation, one in which parents and school staff know bullying is no joke but there's still no escape for high school misfits.

Doomed from birth by the warped religious mania of her puritanical mother, Margaret (Julianne Moore), Carrie White (Chloë Grace Moretz) shuffles through life in shapeless handmade dresses, the oddball kid shunned by her peers and largely ignored by supposedly responsible adults who have their hands full with ordinary teenage acting-out. The lone exceptions are her school's sympathetic but ineffectual principal; righteous gym teacher Miss Desjardins (Judy Greer), who reads her snotty seniors the riot act when they respond to Carrie's terror at her first period by pelting her with tampons, which gets ringleader Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) suspended and therefore banned from the prom; and classmate Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde), who has the decency to be ashamed of her part in Carrie's humiliation and, by way of self-imposed penance, persuades her sweetly hunky boyfriend Tommy (Ansel Elgort) to take Carrie as his date.

Moviegoers puzzled by Peirce's decision to tackle a ’70s horror remake shouldn't be: Like the acclaimed Boys Don't Cry, her Carrie is a baroque shocker deeply rooted in the culture of teenage conformity and cruelty to those who violate its codes of conduct. Her version hits all the same notes as Brian De Palma's 1976 adaptation of Stephen King's career-making novel, with the timely addition of the social-media nightmare that is Chris' cell-phone video of Carrie's ordeal, which both extends its reach far beyond the walls of her school or the borders of her hometown and ensures that it will never, ever go away.

But the tone is even grimmer, due in large part to Moretz's performance as the tormented teenager. Where Sissy Spacek's Carrie was a frightened fawn, all freckles and painful vulnerability, Moretz's is a whipped dog, beaten but not completely whipped. When she finally bites back, it's in an almost ecstatic rage that's both disturbingly sensual and genuinely frightening, in part because she's the supernatural embodiment of every mercilessly bullied young adult who ever picked up a gun and headed to school to settle some scores. This Carrie is powerful but no fun at all: Even if you haven't read the book or seen either of the earlier versions (there was a largely forgotten 2002 TV adaptation starring May's Angela Bettis), we all now know how stories like this one end, and that the victim's righteous retribution is rarely confined to the truly guilty.