Okay, I agree. They shouldn’t have made a sequel to CARRIE. But what if I were to tell you that it’s not bad? That’s what I would tell you if the subject came up, because that’s what I believe. If you have it in you to be a Sue Snell and try to give CARRIE 2 a chance you might be able to see the nice, pretty girl underneath.
It’s a movie of the ’90s so the protagonist, Rachel (newcomer Emily Bergl, now a veteran of TV shows including Desperate Housewives, Southland, The Knick and Shameless), is a different type of outcast than Carrie White. She’s not raised in seclusion, she just had her mother taken away to an asylum when she was young, and she lives with shitty foster parents. She’s not socially stunted. She’s just a girl who likes to wear black and no makeup and has a Marilyn Manson poster and a cheesy matching tattoo with her best friend Lisa (Mena Suvari right before AMERICAN PIE and AMERICAN BEAUTY). It is not specified, but in my opinion she owns THE CRAFT on VHS or at the very least PUMP UP THE VOLUME.
Rachel can stand up for herself but does have some vulnerabilities. Her other best friend is her basset hound Walter, and she’s embarrassed when it comes up that she’s a virgin. Although she gives lip service to the band Garbage, we hear her listening to Billie Holliday more than once.
The cruelty that Rachel is subjected to is over-the-top, but maybe a little more true to life than King’s pig’s blood prank. Inspired by the infamous case of “the Spur Posse” from earlier in the ’90s, her school (I think still Bates High School as in the DePalma movie?) is home to a clique of popular football players involved in a points-based competition for who can bed the most vulnerable girls. When Lisa loses her virginity to one of them and then finds out she’s been taken advantage of she walks off the roof of the school. Rachel’s knowledge of what happened could threaten the boys’ chances at football scholarships, so they start stalking her and making rape threats (even using a Donald Duck type voice when threatening her on the phone – an homage to NEW YORK RIPPER?)
I think the casting in this is a big part of what works. These are some of the most accurately despicable jock assholes I can think of in a movie.
You want to punch Zachery Ty Bryan’s dumb, smug face before his character Eric even gets to full prick levels. He’s so perfect at it that he played the rich jock bully high school asshole again 7 years later in TOKYO DRIFT. Dylan Bruno is maybe even more perfect as Matt, the roided-out den mother of the meatheads who looks out for Eric, gives him pep talks and also turns on the charm when he pretends to make up with Rachel. You can see why she would be tempted to let down her guard and see what it’s like to hang out with the popular kids.
In sort of a combination of the Tommy Ross and Sue Snell roles is Jason London as football hero Jesse, who seems to feel some remorse for being part of this group’s antics and shares a mutual attraction with Rachel when they come together by accident. It happens because her dog Walter gets hit by a truck and Jesse happens to drive by and see her in the street crying, holding her injured dog. He’s a nice kid so he stops and drives her to a vet and then takes her out for coffee, covered in blood. Instead of animal blood being the instrument of her humiliation and destruction it’s just something she has to shrug off during a first date. And instead of a random animal that was sacrificed in order to bully her it’s one that is close to her, that is rescued and healed, as an act of kindness toward her.
So Jesse leaves his bitchy girlfriend Tracy (Charlotte Ayanna, TRAINING DAY, SPUN) to spend time with Rachel, and tries to get his teammates to stop picking on her. He’s legitimately sweet and has a great chemistry with her and overlooks the blood-stains like a true gentleman.
I do think she should reject him a little more at first. You can see why she ends up liking him, but I think this story pushes an archaic cliche that every girl in school yearns to date the captain of the football team. I bet many girls like Rachel would not be into a guy like Jesse and would crush on a totally different type of dreamy dude not seen in this movie. But oh well.
Even the popular girls (not as big a part of the movie; this is more about misogyny than the Mean Girl syndrome explored by King) are well cast in that they’re not exactly the Hollywood ideal of popular girls. I don’t know, I guess it’s just the glasses, but to me Rachel Blanchard (who played Cher in the TV show of CLUELESS) leans a little on the nerdy side, which can happen in real life. The popular kids don’t always look like models or movie stars. Most casting departments wouldn’t admit it, but it’s true.
Most of all, Bergl is really good and relatable, made more likable and attractive for not being a standard issue Hollywood superbabe. She’s grounded enough to walk that line between girl-with-no-friends and girl-who-can-believably-hook-the-handsome-quarterback.
Oh yeah, and she’s telekinetic. One way the story connects to CARRIE is that Sue Snell (Amy Irving) is her guidance counselor. Obviously we assume she’s trying to atone for her part in what happened all those years ago by making a difference in young people’s lives. Of course she also figures out that Rachel has powers and tries to talk to her about it (SPOILER) but that doesn’t go over too well.
I forgot about Sue’s ultimate fate (SPOILER): she kinda gets the Scatman-in-THE-SHINING treatment. She comes a long way to help only to have her head abruptly impaled. Bummer. Harsh world. Fits with the worldview of King’s book, though.
To me, surprisingly, the horror climax is the weak part. Rachel seems so much more sane and savvy than Carrie that I had a harder time believing her sudden flip to kill-everybody mode. And though they switch the location to a house party you can’t help but remember how stylistically superior DePalma’s prom rampage was, especially since they use footage a couple times in the movie as flashbacks.
I do kinda like the gimmick of the vines from her tattoo spreading across her body. It reminds you that this is not just about the boys betraying her, but about hounding her friend to suicide (and then making light of her death). Also the flashes of black and white are kinda smart. At first it bothered me that the movie used black and white both for Rachel’s flashbacks and for telekinesis. Then I realized that it worked to illustrate her disorientation. When she lets loose she’s misplaced in time.
Director Katt Shea we know as an actor in BARBARIAN QUEEN and PSYCHO III. She worked her way from b-movie actress (HOLLYWOOD HOT TUBS) to writer and director, starting with STRIPPED TO KILL and STRIPPED TO KILL II: LIVE GIRLS, and is best known for POISON IVY. She actually has a small connection to original-CARRIE director Brian DePalma: she played “Woman at Babylon Club” in SCARFACE. She came aboard THE RAGE after Robert Mandel (F/X, SCHOOL TIES, THE SUBSTITUTE) filmed for two weeks and then quit.
It seems like a good idea to have a woman direct a CARRIE movie. I don’t know how much her perspective changes things, but it’s funny that she chooses to peer into the male world much like DePalma looked into the female one. Both have locker room nudity, but Shea’s is naked men (and not filmed as lovingly or as slow-motionly). In DePalma’s movie we’re terrorized by two controlling women, Margaret White and Chris Hargenson. But Rachel is more the victim of an avalanche of testosterone. Shea knows how to capture teenage machismo in all its high fiving, chest bumping, whooing, bro-ing fury, such as in the scene where they all decide it would be so awesome if they all shaved their heads like awesome head shave warrior brothers…
…which is the kind of thing you do if part of your life is controlled by a coach who makes you pull down your pants so he can tell you that you don’t have balls.
I remember when I first saw this I liked it but seeing the footage from the original CARRIE really took me out of it, because it reminded me to compare this to a much better movie. So it’s funny that on the director’s commentary track Shea acknowledges that she knew it would have that effect. She knew people would be mad it was a sequel to a classic and she wanted to confront it head on. Weirdly she even had to fight to do it, because Spacek didn’t want her likeness to be in the movie, so Shea was defying everyone’s advice by putting flashbacks into her script and her cut. When she showed the movie to Spacek the actresss liked it and changed her mind. Kind of like how George Miller got Prince to do a song for HAPPY FEET.
Maybe it helps that THE RAGE kinda feels like an underdog itself. It doesn’t come from an era when constant remakes and sequels and requels were being shoved down our throats. It doesn’t have a bunch of recognizable stars in it. It wasn’t, as far as I can remember, given a huge marketing push. Nobody knew the word “reboot” to accuse it of trying to be, and I don’t think it ever occurred to us that they would hope to do further movies with this character. It just felt like it was something that probly shouldn’t have happened, but then it did, and then we found out it was nothing to be too upset about. I can’t claim this is a must-see movie or a worthy successor to DePalma’s CARRIE, but I will absolutely stand behind its status as Not As Bad As You’d Think. I would even go so far as to say that I like it.