By Karen DSouza San Jose Mercury News
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 its gaze, spares it 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.
Far from a mindless monster flick about a kid with supernatural powers, this is a movie that 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.
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.
For her part, Moretz (“Let Me In”) 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.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to care about the school universe because of lackluster performances by Gabriella Wilde as the good girl Sue Snell, who tries to make amends to Carrie by lending out her boyfriend, and Portia Doubleday as bitchy queen bee Chris Hargensen.
Wilde is too meek and genteel here to make much impact, which is too bad because Peirce gives her a bigger role to play than in the original. Doubleday looks the part of the brassy bad girl but she lacks the steel to give Chris’ taunts any teeth.
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. In the end, this Carrie is nobody’s victim. Like her mother, she’s a woman devoured by fury.
“Carrie” (2½ stars)
A horror movie based on real life rather than supernatural powers, this remake is a story of two women devoured by rage. Julianne Moore’s powerful performance is manacing while Moretz as Carrie has inner strength. Supporting female roles are not as strong and male roles fade into the background.
Rated: R for violence, language and sexual content.
Showing: Alderwood 7, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Meridian, Sundance, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.