Raising Cain

(USA - 1992)

by Mike Lorefice

Cast: John Lithgow, Lolita Davidovich, Steven Bauer, Mel Harris, Frances Sternhagen, Gregg Henry
Genre: Thriller/Horror
Director: Brian De Palma
Screenplay: Brian De Palma
Cinematography: Steven H. Burum
Composer: Pino Donaggio
Runtime: 91 minutes

Brian De Palma partially returns to his vintage style used in his highly underrated masterpieces Dressed To Kill & Blowout. The style was as excellent as you'd expect, telling much of the story with the camera and editing rather than the words. There were two main problems though. First, little was scripted to make you care about the 'heroes' Lolita Davidovich and to a lesser extent Steven Bauer, and their flat performances didn't help things any. This, we can excuse because De Palma is never trying to disguise that he's making a movie. On the contrary, he seems to want things to be as artificial as possible. Secondly, the roundabout style was more repeating things you already knew (unlike say Abel Ferrara's New Rose Hotel where there are alterations that bring new light the "same" scenes) if you know how to watch a movie and were paying attention, rather than furthering the plot or creating some much needed suspense. What was annoying is the one thing that they didn't go back and explain, the identity of the body in the sunken car, was the only point in the whole movie that in my estimation could have been confusing (I'm pretty sure it was the mother from the opening).

The strength of the movie, even more so than the patented De Palma flick brilliant cinematography and cool production techniques, was the multifaceted performance of John Lithgow. He shows tremendous range here playing each totally different role to perfection.

This movie was both enjoyable and frustrating. If you appreciate De Palma, and why wouldn't you unless you've only seen Snake Eyes or are one of those dumbasses who thinks Tarantino pays homage but De Palma only rips people off, I can't see how you can think it's a below average film. At the same time, I can see where in the past the director would have done things differently that would have improved the overall quality. Though the movie is purposely absurd, that's no excuse for De Palma not having more material and a stronger ending before beginning production. Even at just over 1 1/2hr it seems too long, and thus is harping on or forcing material rather than properly setting it up and then 'shocking us' with it.

To me, aside from not being 1/50th as ambitious, this is similar to Dario Argento's Phenomena. Although Phenomena is clearly a notch or two better, it's basically a case where an awesome director that's not having a good movie by their standards still makes a production that most other directors rarely exceed. The `problem' is the fans of the director expect a great film every time, so a film by them that's merely good often winds up being treated like toilet paper.

Speaking of Argento, one of the things that didn't work about this movie was the finish, which was a homage to Tenebrae. It was great in Tenebrae because it was a big surprise and the film didn't end with it, but here it came off as moldy cheese. The majority of the time De Palma at least technically improves upon the scenes he's paying homage. Usually with bravaura visuals, but there are other examples like the audio gimmickry of Blowout being a far more compelling experience than watching David Hemmings staring at pictures for half of Blowup. The Tenebrae wasn't set up as cleverly and came off as trying so hard to get a comic reaction that it achieved the opposite out of spite because you felt like you were cheated.

I generally like how De Palma utilizes great scenes from world cinema (the doing Hitchcock thing is so overblown because half the people that want to cut him up miss the references to other great directors because they haven't seen their films), but the problem with referential filmmaking is it can come off poorly if it's not set up to achieve a similar level of effect. To enjoy this film I have to remind myself that De Palma isn't going for that, or any level of seriousness. He's just having fun constructing his film with pieces of other strong films he loves. As with any compilation of favorites, it's very dear to the person it's close to but to others it depends how close their tastes (and in this case viewing experiences) are to the creators.

De Palma's films always have a sense of parody, often centered on film making and viewing like it is here. While in Cain it doesn't exactly approach the brilliance of say the body double scene at the end of Body Double, one wonders if De Palma ever had more fun. Part of this fun includes a kind of self parody, which for some reason people see as De Palma not caring about his characters. This strikes me as rather silly. I believe the truth is closer to De Palma caring about his characters, just not on the level some people expect him to because they are movie characters rather than his best friends. The characters aren't talking to the audience, but this is certainly a film that's very self aware and is trying to amuse you rather than fool you into believing it's legit. In the end, it's hard to rate this film because what De Palma has done here is kind of let you in on his jokes about horrors and thrillers. It's far from entirely successful, but it's more compelling than most films that work.



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