Grrr power

Mary Elizabeth Williams reviews 'The Rage: Carrie 2'

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published March 19, 1999 8:00PM (EST)

Rachel Lang's guidance counselor wants her to get in touch with her feelings. But when you're an angry young telekinetic, tapping into your troubled psyche may not be such a hot idea. At best, a few snow globes might explode. At worst, well, anybody remember "Carrie" and the world's worst prom? Apparently somebody does, because 22 years after Sissy Spacek got very, very miffed over the pig blood incident, there's a new brooding wallflower in town.

The original "Carrie" helped launch both Stephen King and Brian DePalma into their respective big leagues and kicked off the whole gutted teen genre. Unlike the truckload of horror flicks that followed it, "Carrie" didn't rely on knife-wielding bad boys in scary masks for its frights, but on a gawky little slip of a girl -- which was, in lots of ways, much scarier. The new Carrie isn't nearly as formidable as its predecessor, but much of the original idea is still the same: It's not nice to fool Mother Nature. And nature, make no mistake, is definitely a woman.

The sullen adolescent this time out is Rachel (Emily Bergl), a growly cynic with a mom in the loony bin and a pair of white trash foster parents (their status is communicated by having the mother iron in her slip, and having the dad be played by X's John Doe). While she doesn't run with the popular crowd, Rachel isn't exactly queen geek either. For one thing, she doesn't play that religious nerd crap like Carrie had to. Instead, Rachel sports Melissa Auf Der Maur ringlets, a tattoo and a clingy top emblazoned, prophetically, with the image of Kali. For another thing, she's got a social life, including a budding romance with foxy football star Jesse (Jason London). But when her best friend impulsively throws herself off a building after being deflowered and ditched by one of Jesse's teammates, Rachel feels pretty bad. And when she begins to uncover the school jocks' and cheerleaders' vile pattern of nasty behavior, her anger intensifies. She pushes, and the creeps push back, turning their hate rays on her full force. Silly, silly boys and girls. This is a game in which the one who can make things explode with her mind has the clear upper hand.

"The Rage" was directed by "Poison Ivy" veteran Katt Shea, and it shares some of that film's moody tawdriness (it sure does rain a lot in Shea's world) as well as its dark humor. Rachel isn't a mere mass of crabby spoon-bending tricks; she's also a dweeb with a penchant for outdated slang like "right on," and she has a gimpy basset hound who spends half the movie sporting a big plastic head cone. And when guidance counselor and original Carrie survivor Sue Snell (Amy Irving) attempts a "Good Will Hunting" therapeutic outreach, Rachel rolls her eyes with such precise teen disgust you can believe for a moment that it's Snell, not she, who's the real nutjob. That's not the case, we know, because Rachel has a unique psychic condition -- one that manifests itself not just in slamming doors and windows but also in switching suddenly to black and white and lots of weird, wiggly camera work.

What makes a movie like "The Rage" difficult to pull off is that its entirely lacking in suspense. The bad kids may pull their cruel stunts -- including at one point taunting Rachel in exactly the same manner Drew Barrymore was taunted in "Scream" (horror movies are nothing if not eminently self-reflective) -- but we all know that once they really piss her off, their puny spear guns will be no match for Rachel's Incredible Hulk anger-management style. Because the movie's all about bad coping skills, Rachel can't let her anger leak out a little at a time -- she's got to grit her teeth until she finally, cataclysmically, loses her shit. What this means is that most of the action takes place in the last few minutes, as bodies are impaled, castrated, decapitated, drowned and creatively dispatched via flying CDs in such rapid succession its hard to tell what's going on in all the grisly mayhem. All that's certain is that it's really gross and it's over really fast.

Before then, and for a huge chunk of the film, "Rage" actually bears more resemblance to any other teen angst flick. As Rachel pursues a love affair with good guy Jesse (his sensitivity conveyed by having him really "get" "Romeo and Juliet"), the two struggle with his jerk pals and her fear of intimacy. But can a supernatural rage-aholic find happiness with a scholarship-bound golden boy? Will he still want to make out with her after she's wasted half the graduating class? Although the setup's simultaneously hokey and bizarre, both Bergl and London play their strange love straight, giving their characters a star-crossed wistfulness. London's fine, but Bergl's an especially intriguing performer, even when she's spouting schlock. She's simultaneously nerdy and hard-edged, equal parts Love's Baby Soft and napalm. With luck, one day she'll be like Sissy Spacek and have a careerful of meatier roles under her belt, and not like poor Amy Irving, appearing in supremely unnecessary horror movie sequels.

It's true that one doesn't approach the follow-up to a two-decade-old gorefest expecting to be dazzled. The surprise of the movie is that it actually does have a talented director and star. It doesn't begin to make up for the low quality of the story or the numerous other unfortunate elements, but it does suggest little flashes of something that, with more thought, might actually have been somewhat interesting. The successor to "Carrie" may be called "The Rage," but it's mostly just an exercise in mild frustration over what might have been.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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