'Carrie' remake lacks shock power

| Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

When Brian De Palma adapted Stephen King's novel “Carrie” for film in 1976, he turned the story of a bullied teenage girl with telekinetic powers into a dreamy pop-horror fantasia. De Palma threw everything into the movie: split screens, slow motion, cartoonish humor, shameless sentimentality, a merciless sense of justice. The film made you laugh as much as it scared you.

De Palma's “Carrie” became so iconic that it remains vital 37 years later — and casts an imposing shadow over the new version by director Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don't Cry,” “Stop-Loss”). Instead of trying to outdo the grandness of the original, Peirce takes a more-grounded approach, treating the characters of Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz) and her religious-fanatic mother Margaret (Julianne Moore) with more emotional gravity and empathy.

Moretz invests the character with a fragile vulnerability that runs deeper than her unkempt hair and shabby clothes. Carrie discovers she has the ability to move objects with her mind. The power emboldens the timid girl, even though she must keep it hidden from her mom. Moore plays Carrie's monstrous mama as a tragic figure, a sheltered and awkward woman. Moore makes us understand why she does the things she does. The world betrayed her, and she's not going to let the same thing happen to Carrie.

She will fail, of course, in a most spectacular fashion. Carrie is going to suffer, and that's where the movie starts running into problems. Peirce is good at illustrating the complexities and contradictions inherent in her characters: The repentant Sue (Gabriella Wilde), who feels bad about having participated in the locker-room debacle and asks her boyfriend (Ansel Elgort) to take Carrie to the prom; the mean girl Chris (Portia Doubleday), who plots bloody revenge after being barred from attending the prom; and Coach Desjardin (Judi Greer), the teacher who takes a motherly interest in Carrie.

Peirce fares much worse with the horror elements in the film. This “Carrie” becomes less involving as it goes along, ceding its emotional power to special effects and unconvincing gore.

Rene Rodriguez is a staff writer for the Miami Herald.

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