Film Review: Raising Cain (1992)


Following the shameful fiasco of his epic satire Bonfire of the Vanities, Brian De Palma realised that he needed to reboot his career. The simplest thing to do was to return to the things he knew best – psychological thrillers inspired by the works of Alfred Hitchcock. Although he failed to reach his 1970s and early 1980s career heights, De Palma’s 1992 film Raising Cain was the step in right direction.

Main character, played by John Lithgow, is Dr. Carter Nix, child psychologist who lives with his wife Dr. Jenny O’Keefe Nix (played by Lolita Davidovich), a physician and their young daughter Amy (played by Amanda Pombo). Carter has taken great interest in Amy and tries to spend any possible minute with her, much to dislike of Jenny who feels neglected and even rekindles extramarital affair with Jack Dante (played by Steven Bauer), husband of one of her deceased patients. In the meantime, children and mothers in the area become targets of mysterious abductor who is soon revealed to be closely associated with Carter. Carter himself was subject of clinical study by his father who mysteriously disappeared many years ago. The object of the study were multiple personalities and old Dr. Nix had them created by carefully causing traumas in Carter. One of such new personalties is Cain Nix, who is ruthless enough to do what Carter would be too scared or ashamed to do. Attempt to continue the sick experiment by kidnapping new children and using them as controlled group would ultimately put Amy’s and Jenny’s life in danger.

De Palma tried to do something simple with Raising Cain. Film was produced by his then-pregnant wife Gale Anne Hurd and had relatively low budget with short running time of hour and half. De Palma, who also wrote the script, has taken clear inspiration from Hitchcock’s classic works, most notably Psycho, but also his own classic Dressed to Kill. Attempt to add something new with multiple personality subplot resulted in experienced character actor John Lithgow delivering great performance by playing not one, but five different characters. De Palma was aided by good cinematography by Stephen H. Burum and atmospheric music score by his old associate Pino Donaggio. De Palma also employed his great sense of style with many baroque secquences featuring slow motion, wide angle shots. Eespecially impressive is the tracking shot during which character of elderly psychiatrist (played by Frances Sternhagen) delivers otherwise boring exposition in a way that would make film intreesting.

Despite De Palma again showing why he enjoyed reputation of one of greatest American film makers, Raising Cain failed to make anything but modest success at box office, while the critics were divided. The main reason is in De Palma’s script that tried to be too “clever” and bring too much red herrings and plot twists. The result is overcomplicated and often confusing story, especially when the audience has to figure out whether the scene is reality or someone’s fantasy. Many of such twists aren’t particularly convincing and even the “shock” final shot looks too cheap. Lolita Davidovich, unlike Lithgow, struggles with her thankless role and Steven Bauer is terribly bland. Raising Cain is, despite its flaws, very entertaining thriller that can be recommended not only to the fans of De Palma but also to the fans of the genre.

RATING: 6/10 (++)

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