Chloë Moretz is no stranger to blood.
The 16-year-old actress, who stars in the remake of Stephen King’s Carrie, which opens Friday, is perhaps best known for her role as a foul-mouthed pint-size superhero in Matthew Vaughan’s 2010 film Kick-Ass. It’s a shockingly formidable performance that had Moretz throwing around the c-word with as much sharp dexterity as her character’s glittering knives. Then there was the time she played a preteen vampire in Let Me In, gruesomely chowing down on joggers and neighbors while striking up a friendship with a local boy and managing to infuse her monstrous character with real humanity.
Given all of that, the pig’s blood in Carrie that douses the title character during the film’s iconic climax is simple enough to shrug off.
But if you think you know Carrie, think again, as 2013’s Carrie hews far more closely to the 1974 Stephen King novel than it does the 1976 film starring Sissy Spacek, and Moretz’s take on the telekinetic teen follows suit as well. “My version of Carrie is the book,” Moretz told BuzzFeed. “I read it five or six times — it was my go-to, my end-all, be-all, my only source material. I saw the original movie when I was 11, but never rewatched it during filming.”
In King’s novel, Carrie White is a self-conscious teen who lives with her overly sheltered and paranoid mother and is teased mercilessly by her classmates. Upon discovering her telekinetic powers, she exacts a horrific revenge on her tormentors at the high school prom. Thanks to the film, the scene, a portrait of a teenage rite of passage turned on its head, has become as infamous as Psycho’s Norman Bates plunging a knife into Marion Crane in the shower, or a bug-eyed Jack Torrance hacking away at a hotel room door with an ax in The Shining. To recreate the true terror of such a scene was a tall order.
“My biggest thing was that I didn’t want to know when the blood was going to be dropped,” said Moretz. “I didn’t want to hear it; I didn’t want to see anyone signal it. I just wanted to be living in the moment of Carrie and just — whatever happens, happens.”
Watching Carrie, it’s instantly clear that Moretz’s reaction to that moment is genuine. Shot from a multitude of different angles, director Kimberly Peirce captures Moretz’s expression of horror and shame over and over again, further amplifying the significance of this moment. While Spacek played the scene with similar shock in the 1974 version before succumbing to a vacant, almost robotic rage, Moretz remains wholly human throughout her telekinetic attack, forcing the audience to to become complicit in the act of Carrie taking revenge on her classmates, an act of vengeance that feels perhaps just.
Part of that is because the film captures Carrie’s sense of ineffable shame, captured not only in those bullying scenes — she’s humiliated and taunted when she gets her period at school — but also at home, in scenes Moretz shares with Julianne Moore, who plays Carrie’s deeply religious and disturbed mother Margaret. It’s Margaret who further mortifies Carrie, claiming in her fault that her teenage body has turned on her in an ungodly manner. At one point, Margaret refers to breasts as “dirty pillows.” In another, Moore’s character orders Carrie to “go to her closet,” a tiny nook under the stairs filled with crucifixes where she will be locked until she “finishes her prayers.” Although she pleads with her mother to be released, kicking and screaming, she finally succumbs to the darkness of this lonely hole, before emerging with an understanding that “Mama” was right about her sin.
“There’s something about how beautiful that scene is,” said Moretz. “I think it helped to be really close to my own mom, because being a mama’s girl, I was able to create a relationship with Julianne that was so easy and so safe and we could literally go wherever we needed to go.” And their dynamic goes to some pretty harrowing places within the film (SPOILER ALERT!); even when Margaret is trying to stab her with a kitchen knife, all Carrie wants is to love and shelter her mother from pain. The stoic urgency in which Moore delivers her dialogue is the yin to Moretz’s soft and insecure yang.
Carrie, with her spotty face and chubby limbs, always picked on for wearing tightly buttoned collars from decades past, and not knowing why her insides are bleeding in the girl’s locker room, immediately draws on our sympathy. In real life, Moretz is the same age as Carrie, and embodies the role of a troubled telekinetic teen with ease. Cloistered and set apart from teenage society, Moretz responds to these circumstances with a rare combination of innocence and fragility. The way she utters “Mama” as a plea, rather than a term of endearment, when speaking with her unstable mother is a knife in the gut of viewers.
But Carrie is ultimately a mass murderer, and after tragedies in Aurora, Sandy Hook, and elsewhere, it’s difficult to forget this fact. Yet, as Moretz was quick to point out, “She doesn’t willingly choose to kill these people, the telekinesis takes her over. It’s a disease.” Furthermore, Moretz doesn’t see the character as a villain, or even a victim. “She is a hero in herself,” she said. “It is the drug that is evil. After the fact of everything she has done, she just feels sort and confused and scared, all she wants to do is be with her mama.”
While the essence of Carrie — the inability to fit in, tolerance, right vs. wrong — transcends decades, certain elements like the proliferation of social media and cell phones were added to the narrative to ensure director Kimberly Peirce didn’t alienate a younger audience. Their presence also serves to further ground Carrie’s situation in today’s social media-driven society. No longer is bullying kept to the confines of a classroom: When the girls in the school locker room torment Carrie by throwing tampons at her as she shrieks on the cold titled floor, they use a cell phone to tape and share the entire incident for the world to see. As Moretz points out: “It isn’t 1974 anymore. We can’t make a movie purely about that time.”
After all, 2013 is an era of when intimate moments can quickly go viral on the internet. Moretz herself has seen the viral video of an angry coffee shop patron using “telekinesis” to wreak havoc after a man spills coffee on her, a publicity stunt timed to the release of Carrie. “Yes, it was so funny!” she said. “Everyone was emailing it around and talking about it.” For a second, Moretz appears to be a buoyant if self-possessed teenager, but the 16-year-old typically speaks with the poise of a seasoned actor far older than herself.
While being tough on screen comes naturally to Moretz — she was named “Biggest Badass” at the 2011 MTV Movie Awards — her roles and her real-life persona couldn’t be more different. Away from the sets of her films, Moretz has more in common with awkward Carrie than, say, Hit-Girl. “Chloë herself is pretty foolish,” said Moretz, speaking in the third person. “I trip over my own feet. I’m not as poised as I look in movies or on the red carpet. I think that I do these roles because they are so opposite of who Chloë is and that’s exciting for me.”
Yet living the life of an average teen is something that the homeschooled and hard-working Moretz will never truly experience, and like many of the characters she plays on screen, Moretz’s hidden inner life is deep and unknowable. That includes commenting on her personal life and any romantic rumors. After her boyfriend Cameron Fuller gave her a plastic ring, news sites erroneously reported that the then 15-year-old had gotten engaged.
“I’ve been in this business since I was 5 years old, and I’ve learned to juggle things in my life,” she said. “I’ve learned to become the actor, a thespian, but also have time to myself, have my private life. The beauty of that is that it is private — that’s my time for me to be Chloë. Hardly anyone in the world knows who that real Chloë is.”
The actress, meanwhile, won’t have much downtime for the foreseeable future: She has six films coming out in 2014 — including The Equalizer with Denzel Washington and If I Stay, a mysterious thriller based on Gayle Forman’s 2009 novel. In the latter, she’ll play a teen who is rendered comatose after a car accident that kills her family and has an out of body experience where she must choose whether to die or return to her now shattered life. Given Moretz’s penchant for taking on crimson-soaked dramatic roles, it’s safe to say that there will be blood.