At the time of its release, I remember people describing The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999, directed by Katt Shea) as a sequel no one wanted. I mean, seriously, this comes, what? 23 years later? I didn't see it when it was in theaters. It certainly wasn't a sequel that I wanted. In some ways, I'm glad I waited until now to watch it. There are things in this film that I would not have appreciated in 1999, blinded as I was at the time by whatever vestige of male privilege I once had. A decade without that privilege tends to lift the blinders. The Rage's prescience is startling. Like Kimberly Pierce's remake a decade later, this is a film that benefits from a female gaze.
The story here follows Rachel Lang, whose mother is carted off to a sanitarium when she's very young. Her mother, it seems, is convinced that Rachel is possessed by the devil. In her upset, Rachel causes the doors and windows of her house to open and shut with the force of her grief. Years later, Rachel is a sullen outsider in high school and a malcontent at home, where she bristles at the the authority of her foster parents. When Rachel's best friend, Lisa, finds love, Rachel is delighted for her. When Lisa commits suicide once her new beau blows her off, Rachel discovers an ax to grind with a couple of the football players at her high school, who make a game of seducing unpopular girls and ditching them. Rachel works in a fotomat, and Lisa took pictures of her beau. (And, boy howdy, does the fact that Rachel works in a fotomat date this film like nothing else!) Rachel knows who Lisa's beau is. Unfortunately, this makes her a target. Meanwhile, good-natured jock, Jesse, accidentally hits Rachel's dog and sits with her at the vet. They form a bond and soon, they're dating, much to the chagrin of the popular clique at school, who resent her for this and resent her for potentially "ruining" the lives of a couple of their number. The school counselor noticing all of this is Sue Snell, who suspects that Rachel has the same gifts as Carrie White, who burned her own high school to the ground. When the popular clique contrive a revenge to be executed at a party after the football game, it seems that Rachel is on the same collision course with destruction...
Watching The Rage: Carrie 2 in 2014, it's impossible to avoid comparing it to the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case. It exists at the same intersection of male privilege, jock privilege, harassment, and rape culture. It even puts the notion that a rape accusation against a group of boys making a game of rape would "ruin the lives of these boys," into the mouth of a district attorney more concerned with elections and (it's elided) football games than with the lives of teenage girls. Later in the film, Eric and Mark terrorize Rachel in her home in a way that strikes me as a pre-social media version of online hounding. The film kinda sorta waves this away during the party scene at the end, when the two of them half-apologize to her by telling her that they were just trying to rile her up. Mind you, these two are rapists. But boys are inherently more valuable than girls, it seems. Boys, after all, will be boys.
Of course, girls are often the kapos of patriarchy, enforcing its norms more ruthlessly than men ever could. You get some of that, too, in the sniping of the popular girls, who repeatedly wonder why Jesse is bothering with someone who isn't pretty. Mind you, the notion that Emily Bergl isn't "pretty" is patently absurd, and if Lisa, played by Mena Suvari is on the outs for similar reasons, that's fucked up. But, you know? This works. This is how the game is played. This is internalized misogyny at work.
This is so incredibly on point and carries such a shock of recognition that it's a pity that the movie itself isn't better.
The Rage is content with aping the plot points of De Palma's 1976 film. Oh, it changes a few things: Rachel Lang isn't nearly the passive victim that Carrie White was, and its final conflagration takes place at a snooty party at one of the rich kids' houses, but it keeps the religious nut of a mother, the scheming of the popular kids, and the humiliation and apocalypse. Worse than just plundering Carrie's plot, The Rage provides in-film flashbacks using footage from the original film. This is intended to tie this film more firmly to its predecessor, but it's mainly a reminder that Carrie is a landmark and this one is not? This one? It's a remora, clinging to the tail fin of a shark. The presence of Amy Irving as Sue Snell would have been entirely sufficient a family tie, but there's not enough confidence in its casting choices. There's also a scene where Sue takes Rachel to the ruins of the school Carrie razed as a further reminder. I really wish this had had a different story arc. The slings and arrows of adolescence are legion. This suffers from a fatal lack of imagination.
In its filmmaking particulars, this is a film infected with annoying cinematic tics. The occasional shots in black and white seem completely pointless to me, while the way this moves the camera seems overtly designed to paint with broad fingerstrokes. Subtle this ain't. This is yet another film infested with Hollywood teenagers, who seem to move in a world without supervision. Oh, this isn't as bad as some films I could name. There are actually adults in this film who attempt to exert some measure of parenting--Rachel's foster parents assert their authority in a way that acts more as a plot contrivance than anything, while Eric's father seems a stand in for the generational nature of dudebro culture. When the plot demands it, this is all swept from the table. I wish the performances were better. Emily Bergl is fine as Rachel, but virtually the entire adult cast seems uncomfortable with their line readings. Amy Irving is terrible, and I wonder if she agreed to the part out of some misplaced sense of duty to the movie that put her on the map. The other teenagers are stereotypes, mostly, and played broadly as such. The special effects in this film are at the awkward crossroad between the era of practical effects and computer effects. None of them have aged well.
In truth, I want to like this. I think its portrait of the cesspool of our culture's attitudes toward boys and girls deserves an airing at the bully pulpit of cinema, and this film could have been all that a decade before the fact. For that matter, I want women filmmakers to succeed, even if I have no real liking for director Katt Shea's body of work. But I can't in good conscience look the other way when a film makes such an utter botch of things, as this one does.
Current Challenge tally:
Total Viewings: 10
First Time Viewings: 7
Around the Web:
Jose at Riding the Nightmare treads Corridors of Blood.
Eric at Expelled Grey Matter endures Blackenstein, the nadir of the blaxploitation horror movie.
Dr. AC at Horror 101 continues to rack up the charity contributions, while enduring Van Helsing, poor bastard. Fortunately, he has Horror of Dracula to comfort him.
Bob at Eternal Sunshine begins his reportage from Toronto After Dark, with a look at Housebound.
Tim at The Other Side brings Zoltan: Hound of Dracula to heel.
Scott at Blasphemous Tomes finds that Inbred is a horrible film for horrible people, though that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Kevin at For It Is Man's Number is suckered into watching See No Evil 2 by the Soska twins and Katherine Isabelle. He lives to regret it.
I'm trying out Patreon as a means of funding my blogs. They don't have a widget yet, so this link will just have to do. If you like my writing and art and if you'd like to support Krell Laboratories and Christianne's Art and Comics, please come on over and pledge. Thanks.