Brian De Palma
- John Lithgow as Carter Nix/ Cain
- Lolita Davidovich as Jenny
- Steven Bauer as Jack
- Frances Sterhangen as Dr Lynn Waldheim
A twisting and frequently outrageous psychological thriller from Brian De Palma, Raising Cain is thoroughly enthralling and full of stunning cinema technique, complete with a story that keeps getting you to question the certainty of it. I wouldn’t put it as the best thriller around because of some parts that go way too complicated and unnecessary, but overall the sheer outrageousness helps to make it a feverish delight.
Carter Nix is a mild-mannered child psychologist who has taken time out of work to help raise his young daughter Amy with his wife Jenny, who works as a nurse. Lately though, Carter has become unnervingly attached to his daughter that becomes even more peculiar as the film progresses. At the start, Jenny can’t quite see this though there are hints dropped that become noticeable to her. What is unknown to Jenny is the fact that the seemingly benign Carter is somehow involved in a horrifying experiment, which is where his alter ego of Cain comes in. Cain arises whenever Carter can’t do something and it is frequently nasty. The aforementioned experiment is for their doctor father; they kill mothers and take their young children all in the hopes of helping him with his maniacal studies of personality. Yet it is largely Cain who does these unspeakable acts, even though it weighs more than a little heavy on Carter and bleeds into him. He has lately taken to being overly concerned and almost studying in his treatment of his young daughter, which is a major cause for concern. His behaviour and mood swings begin to alarm Jenny, who fears for her daughter without realising the whole truth of it all. Meanwhile, Jenny herself is having to deal with her own dilemmas. The biggest one is Jack; a former flame of hers who returns out of the blue and still has feelings for her. Jenny soon gives in to temptation and ignites their affair again. Carter’s alter ego of Cain really begins to take over once he witnesses his wife engaging in her affair, leading to shocking consequences and startling revelations that are not what they seem.
Brian De Palma is the stylish man behind the camera and his stamp is well and truly on Raising Cain, complete with the customary homages to Hitchcock. Flourishes of visual astuteness and exceeding panache can be viewed in almost every frame of Raising Cain. You can’t fault De Palma for his visionary way of shooting, its gorgeous even when filled with terror. The sweeping camera , including a simply sublime long tracking shot, that lasts for a number of minutes as the history of Carter’s family is brought into the light by the doctor on the case. The many dreamlike scenes of Raising Cain come equipped with an eerie but strangely beautiful chill, that wraps them and subsequent scenes in that otherworldly grip that plays into the deceptive plot. And while a lot of the film is over the top, it suits De Palma’s style with operatic touches and a significant amount of tongue in cheek to the approach. Instead of it getting to be a parody, there is serious tension and suspense supplied. Add to that layers of whether we are witnessing dreams or reality at various points, and you can’t help but be compelled by Raising Cain. Doubles, flashbacks( or are they?) and an all around creepiness make for a heady brew. The film isn’t a titanic piece of classic movie making though, as there are flaws. Firstly, although it doesn’t fully go into parody or lampooning, it can get pretty ridiculous with some of its moves I must say. At times, some of it slips out of control and it bites off more than it can chew with a couple of parts that slip into unintentionally funny, though the mastery of De Palma’s direction and vision is still very much on show among these weaknesses. A bit more logic may have been of use in Raising Cain as the pudding does get over egged a lot, but the largely over the top narrative and twisted turns paper over some of these cracks. From what I’ve seen out of his movies, Raising Cain is a bit underrated as I haven’t heard that many people talk about it. And while it’s not a work of genius in comparison to some of his other more noted works, it shows enough skill and cinematic technique to be held in higher regard, at least a little bit more than it is. There are many times when you think you’ve got a hold on things and then the whole thing switches and you’re left to reassess them, owing to the complex and fiendish machinations of the plot. This is where the strong points of the film lies as genuine feelings of unease emerge swiftly once certain truths or something resembling that are exposed. A simply luscious and sinister score begins with an almost childlike tone that morphs into moments of shattering crescendo, much like the character of Cain and his other personality.
John Lithgow relishes his roles as Carter and Cain. He skilfully displays the different natures of both with Carter being terrified yet obsessed and Cain being the violent and underhand side. Lithgow manages to make it all very thrilling and unnerving to watch, as he occasionally blurs the lines between the two with considerable menace. He is the captivating centre of this movie and a lot of that is seen through his performance. Unfortunately, I found that Lolita Davidovich was more than a little wooden playing the terrorized wife. Now she did show some convincing moments of fear, but I couldn’t help but feel that she was too indecisive when acting in the part to truly make it work. She looked gorgeous though and her beauty is very becoming. Steven Bauer makes up for things as the handsome object of Jenny’s affections who inadvertently becomes the thing that allows Cain to fully surface with maniacal intent. The great Frances Sterhangen steals the scenes she appears in, where she embodies the shock and incisive knowledge of Carter/Cain through a past event, yet can’t quite piece all the parts of the baffling puzzle together into a whole. Sternhagen exudes an intrinsic authority and level of intelligence that feeds into the part exceptionally well.
So it is an overblown exercise which does induce head-scratching, but by and large Raising Cain still keeps your focus in a strange way, that De Palma plays to with pizzazz. It’s not a masterpiece by any means, but still a movie that demands attention for its thrills and visionary content. And just to tel you all, I’m going to be finding my way through De Palma’s filmography in the next few months, so look out for more reviews.