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Peirce finds empathy, terror with telling of King's 'Carrie'

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Directed by Kimberly Peirce and starring Chloe Grace Moretz, "Carrie" was released Oct. 18, 2013. (Screen Gems) Directed by Kimberly Peirce and starring Chloe Grace Moretz, "Carrie" was released Oct. 18, 2013. (Screen Gems)

There's something enchanting about the optimistic innocence Chloe Grace Moretz brings to poor Carrie White.

Here's a girl whose oppressively religious mother (Julianne Moore) has given her both a terrifying living situation and a severe lack of social skills. She attends a high school inhabited almost entirely by well-dressed sociopaths with soulless eyes who find a little too much enjoyment in torturing the oddly-dressed quiet girl.

The onset of puberty releases the natural flood of chemicals and an extremely strange side effect: telekinesis. Director Kimberly Peirce and cinematographer Steve Yedlin ("Looper") use bright lighting and peaceful colors to bring a sense of joyous wonder to scenes where Carrie begins to find and understand her powers.

I was surprised to see these moments captured without even a hint of anything ominous.

This was one of many smart decisions made by Peirce, whose film is more of a tragedy than a horror. She obviously empathizes with Carrie and sees an inherently good person dealing with a toxically high level of stress without the emotional tools needed to process the stress.

Moretz, best known as Hit Girl in "Kick-Ass," was an inspired choice for the role. Her eyes are constantly full of both sadness and the fear of something horrible happening to her at any given moment.

Gym teacher Ms. Desjardin (Judy Greer) is the only person that shows Carrie any kindness, but aside from their interactions Carrie's school life is hell.

Her home life is worse. Moore plays Margaret White as a woman who constantly appears to be on the verge of exploding with anger. Carrie always seems to hesitate a couple moments before answering any of her mother's questions, carefully scanning her words to make sure there's nothing that will set her mother off. But this clarity gets a little clouded with the onset of the aforementioned teenage chemicals.

Moore and Moretz play off each other very well. There's a fine line they have to walk in their scenes, due primarily to the bizarre material, and it's not hard to fall into melodrama or unintended hilarity. But they play it low-key and let the suspense build naturally.

Peirce does a fantastic job of letting all the suspense build naturally. She doesn't use any cheap horror movie tricks, opting instead for long, slow-moving takes and moody lighting.

It all sets the stage for a phenomenal final act. I was so enthralled at times I was almost able to forget how well I know Stephen King's novel. The ability to surprise me, even when I know what's coming, is the sign of a good film.

I also left happy simply because I finally got another good film from Peirce, who crafted a masterpiece in "Boys Don't Cry" and was one of several directors (including Spike Jonze and Sam Mendes) who exploded onto the scene in 1999.

While the others quickly released successful follow-up films, Peirce delivered her next film, the underwhelming (and rather boring) "Stop Loss," in 2008.

I'm not saying that "Carrie" is the film I've been waiting on from Peirce, but it's a terrific horror film full of great performances and more humanity than I expected.

"Carrie" is Rated R for bloody violence, disturbing images, language and some sexual content.

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