Director Brian De Palma's eagerly awaited return to the psycho thriller genre that helped make him famous perfectly underscores the difference between plot and story in a film. "Story" refers to the events that occur, or are merely referred to, in a movie; "plot" refers to how these
events are arranged in the screenplay. De Palma also wrote RAISING CAIN, and its story, upon synopsizing, seems fairly straightforward.
Carter Nix (John Lithgow) is a child psychologist who's become obsessed with the rearing of his little daughter. To this end, he's adopted a stay-at-home lifestyle and even installed a video camera in the girl's room, the better to be able to check on her. But his obsession has grown into
dementia, and he embarks on a campaign to kill women he knows and steal their children. His intention is to deliver them to his father and his brother Cain (both of whom are also played by Lithgow), who plan to conduct psychological experiments on the kids, and who may also in fact exist only in
Carter's wife Jenny (Lolita Davidovich) is slated to be Carter's last victim and their daughter the last subject. When Jenny, distressed by Carter's strange behavior of late, falls back into the arms of old lover Jack Dante (Steven Bauer), the daffy doc realizes that Jack is the perfect scapegoat
for his crimes. After depositing the body of one of his victims in the trunk of Jack's car, Carter then goes after Jenny, imprisoning her in her own car and submerging her in a marsh (De Palma does his obligatory PSYCHO homage/pillage here). Jenny survives, however, leading to Carter's capture and
As elderly Dr. Waldheim (Frances Sternhagen) reveals, Carter was the subject of bizarre psychological experiments himself as a child, and is now a schizophrenic who labors under the delusion that he must help his father continue his work. During a session with Dr. Waldheim, Carter overpowers her
and escapes wearing her clothing and wig, intending to deliver his daughter to his father (who is, in fact, alive) and escape the country with him. Jenny follows him to the motel where Carter's father is staying, confronts the two men and struggles to take back her child. Jack arrives with the
police, who shoot Carter's father dead as Jack saves the baby. Some time later, Jenny and Jack are back together and she takes her child to the park--where Carter, still in drag, is lurking.
As stated, that's the story of RAISING CAIN. The plot, however, is an utterly incoherent mishmash of flashbacks, dream sequences and voiceovers. Evidently, De Palma wanted to present different points of view and hallucinations, leaving the audience slowly to grasp how they all tie together, but
all he succeeds in doing is thoroughly confusing the audience as to what's supposed to be going on, and even how it falls into place chronologically.
To make matters worse, all this cinematic bait-and-switching allows De Palma no time to explain anyone's motivation or backstory in a visual manner. Subsequently, the audience is subjected to big, unwieldy chunks of expository dialogue that even gimmicks like a five-minute tracking shot (during
Sternhagen's explanation about Carter's background) can't make palatable. De Palma certainly lets all his visual stylistics hang out, but the result is ludicrously overdirected, leading to the completely berserk climax at the motel, complete with a raging storm, a man in a dress, slow-motion,
beer-guzzlin' rowdies cheering from the sidelines and dialogue like, "Watch it! You're going to kill someone with that sundial!"
Better acting might have helped make RAISING CAIN more palatable, if not plausible, but only Lithgow seems to be having fun with his multiple role. Davidovich and Bauer play their parts with glum seriousness, with Bauer (SCARFACE, RUNNING SCARED) in particular seeming misdirected; in a police
station scene where Jack and Jenny are questioned about the horrible events they've just undergone, all Jack seems interested in is jumping Jenny's bones. Davidovich (BLAZE, THE INNER CIRCLE), on the other hand, is just plain awful, and her stony performance clashes badly with the absurd
melodramatics of De Palma's approach.
Every so often, a neat little moment will appear and RAISING CAIN will appear to be getting back on track, but like his schizophrenic villain, De Palma always winds up letting his worst instincts get the better of him. (Violence, profanity, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: R
- Review: Director Brian De Palma's eagerly awaited return to the psycho thriller genre that helped make him famous perfectly underscores the difference between plot and story in a film. "Story" refers to the events that occur, or are merely referred to, in a movie;… (more)