Okay, I’m just going to come right out and say it: between the 1976 original and the 2013 adaptation, I prefer this one. That’s not to say that this “reimagining” is a necessary one or one that’s nearly as impactful as the original. The general consensus is that neither of those statements is true. Nevertheless, 2013’s Carrie is a wonderfully creepy and superbly acted adaptation whose only fault is that it isn’t the original.
2013’s Carried was the third film adaptation of Stephen King’s 1974 coming-of-age horror novel, following the 1976 original and the 2002 made-for-television film. This retelling holds the honor of being the first to be adapted by a female director, Kimberly Peirce, who also directed 1999’s Boys Don’t Cry. And Peirce’s perspective was essential, as Carrie’s story is a uniquely feminine one.
Carrie stars Chloë Grace Moretz as the title character and Julianne Moore as Carrie’s mother. Narratively, Carrie is very similar to the original with some updates added in order to modernize the characters and setting.
Like the original, the story focuses on the shy high school outcast Carrie, trying to survive ruthless bullying from her classmates and the abuse at home from her emotionally disturbed, religiously fanatic mother, Margaret. The film opens with Carrie’s mom giving birth to Carrie– initially deciding that she’ll kill the baby, but ultimately deciding not to.
While showering after gym class, Carrie has her first period but is unaware of what a period is– mistaking the period for something potentially fatal. As she has a panic attack, Carrie’s classmates taunt her by throwing tampons at her and shouting “Plug it up, Carrie,” while one girl records it on her phone.
When Carrie comes home, she angrily confronts her mother as to why she never prepared her for her first period. Margaret believes menstruation to be a sin and locks Carrie in her closet in order to pray and ask for forgiveness for her impure thoughts.
Margaret White: Help this little girl who’s sinned in her days and ways, if she’d made innocent the curse of blood would not be brought upon her…
Carrie White: Momma that’s not even in the Bible, it doesn’t say that anywhere.
Margaret White: Go to your closet and pray.
Carrie White: No.
Margaret White: Pray!
Through her torment, Carrie learns that she may possess telekinesis and decides to study this ability in her school library. Later, one of her classmates who feels intensely guilty about previously bullying Carrie, convinces her boyfriend, the most popular boy in school — played by Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver) in his feature debut — to ask Carrie to prom.
After some convincing, Carrie agrees to the invitation once she is able to confidently confirm it to be sincere. And things begin to look up for Carrie, who’s finally gaining enough confidence to stand up to her mother and live out her high school days like an ordinary teenager.
The most common criticism of this adaptation is that it’s an unnecessary one. The original 1976 adaptation was perfect, making any additional iterations of Stephen King’s classic story needless. It’s a critique of Carrie that can’t be argued with– especially considering how little the 2013 version did to update the story.
Really there isn’t a lot to update. Carrie is a timeless coming-of-age story about teen angst. Peirce’s only contribution was mostly minor modernization updates: current music, dialog, and fashion. But it did made a few creative choices that I think improved on the original.
Firstly, the bullying is a bit more realistic in this adaptation. While the original contained most of the bullying to the one shower scene, 2013 Carrie sees the title character bullied throughout the film; even one of Carrie’s teachers puts her down when she reads aloud her favorite poem for class, which happens to be a creepy one. When Carrie is bullied in the shower scene, one her classmates records the abuse and uploads the video to YouTube, prolonging the agony of the experience.
Perhaps my favorite update to the story is that as Carrie now has a glimmer of empowerment about halfway into the film. She has prom date. She’s gaining enough courage to stand up to her abusive mother. And she even has superpowers that she has a chance at harnessing. Carrie begins finally breaking out of her shell, which makes the ending all the more impactful and tragic.
Kimberly Peirce’s is a worthy adaptation of Stephen King’s timeless tale and contains everything you could ask for in a modern retelling. Carrie is a chillingly choreographed film that elegantly explores themes of liberation, devotion, and revenge by planting viewers right into the shoes of the tormented Carrie. And it’s a tale that’s somehow just as agonizing to witness as it was four decades ago.