Awash in blood and tears, a woman howls in unspeakable anguish as she gives birth in the harrowing opening moments of "Carrie." She is ashen and alone, her face gnarled with fear. Believing the child to be the devil's spawn, she grabs a pair of scissors to stab the infant to death. Only the baby's soft mewling, the pureness of her gaze, spares her from the knife.
Director Kimberly Peirce summons up the bracing thematic subtext of her stylish remake in that deeply disturbing scene. It's masterful filmmaking that recalls the visual economy of her debut film, "Boys Don't Cry," and her gift for psychological nuance.
This is a tale about the cycle of birth and death, the fierce bond between mother and child and the destiny of biology. Far from a mindless monster flick about a kid with supernatural powers, this movie mines the horror of real life, from dysfunctional families to cyber bullies.
That the opening scene is by far the most chilling in the movie is both the strength of this remake and its key weakness. Peirce shines such a harsh spotlight on the twisted love between the religious zealot mother, Margaret White (played with heart-pounding menace by Julianne Moore), and her misfit daughter, Carrie (Chloe Grace Moretz), that the rest of Carrie's connections to the world seem like an afterthought. Home is the real horror here.
Moore's captivating performance steals some of the thunder because very little else in the picture can rival it.
While Peirce pays homage to Brian De Palma's 1976 original by echoing many of the iconic film's seminal moments, she diminishes the bite of the bullying that Carrie endures from her peers. That's a pity, because it robs this bloody revenge tragedy of its visceral impact.
Moretz captures the vulnerability of Carrie, a girl battered on all sides but trying desperately, futilely, to fit in. Dressed in mousy homemade clothes, her hair in ungainly braids, she's an instant pariah in a teen universe ruled by the vapid and the vain. Indeed, one of the most unsettling threads Peirce weaves here is that when fanatical Margaret rants and raves about the corruption of pop culture, you fear she may not be entirely mistaken.
For all its cheesy '70s vibe, De Palma's movie far better captured the primal, almost "Lord of the Flies" nature of the high-school experience, the sheer terror of being a social outcast. That's what really gave the "Carrie" myth such staying power in pop culture. At its core, "Carrie" captured something painful and true about adolescence.
It doesn't help matters that Moretz has an undeniable spunkiness, a quality showcased in "Kick-Ass," so it's hard to shake the feeling that she could hold her own with or without telekinesis. She always seems more in control of her sorcery and far more formidable than the fragile and delicate Sissy Spacek.
In the end, this Carrie is nobody's victim. Like her mother, she's a woman devoured by fury.
Stylish remake that mines the horror of real life, from dysfunctional families to cyber bullies.
Where • Theaters everywhere
When • Opens Friday
Rating • R (for bloody violence, disturbing images, language and some sexual content)
Running time • 1 hour, 39 minutes