This article contains spoilers for The Rage: Carrie 2.
The film: Emily Bergl stars as Rachel, a quiet teen who lives with a foster family after her mother is hospitalised for schizophrenia. Her friend Lisa (Mena Suvari) dies by suicide after she sleeps with and is then humiliated by a footballer, Eric (Zachary Ty Bryan). Rachel knows about Eric’s fling with her friend and passes the information on to the Sheriff who tries to charge Eric for statutory rape. Rachel’s actions attract the ire of Eric’s footballing friends, aside from Jesse (Jason London) who finds himself falling for her. However, what none of them know is that Rachel has the ability to move things with her mind when she becomes emotionally distressed.
Following a genuine masterpiece like Brian de Palma’s adaptation of Carrie was always going to be a tough ask, especially for director Katt Shea. The Poison Ivy director was brought in less than a week before filming started after the previous director left due to creative differences. Shea and screenwriter Rafael Moreu could have easily fallen into the sequel trap of simply repeating what had gone before where Carrie White is concerned, but instead, they take the coming-of-age framework and use it to build a narrative of more late '90s sensibilities.
The teen movie boom in the latter part of that decade intersected with third-wave feminism in a big way. Instead of your Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club types, heroines shifted to the more abrasive oddball Ally Sheedy types. Think Julia Stiles’ acerbic Kat Stratford in 10 Thing I Hate About You or Kirsten Dunst’s driven cheer captain in Bring It On. Bergl’s outsider Rachel is on the more serious side but definitely fits into the mold. She resists conformity until it seems like it might finally get her accepted (though of course this comes with a price).
Of course, as its title suggests, The Rage: Carrie 2 isn’t in the comedy section of the teen movie shelf. There are moments of terrific black humour, particularly when it comes to Eric’s fate, but this is a film that takes the troubled femininity of Carrie and places a considerable portion of the blame on a patriarchal society. It is a school social system in which girls are there to be scored by leering guys, their names written in notebooks and numbers assigned if one of the footballers manages to sleep with her. Some of the girls in question go along with it because it’s the way to avoid being bullied or vilified.
What is perhaps most surprising about The Rage is how on the nose it is regarding the way in which young women are victimised by young men, warped by a toxic, hyper-masculine environment. In this case, it’s American football, based on a 1993 sex scandal involving a group of jocks know as the Spur Posse. But it’s a trend that hasn’t gone away. You only have to look at the Steubenville case for a relatively recent example of a similar, real-life case or Brock Turner’s lenient sentencing to see attitudes are still prevalent. The film even uses the same kind of phrases we’ve heard from judges in reality: “You wanna be responsible for ruining these boys’ lives?” and “You don’t have enough evidence to tarnish this boy’s reputation.”
It is always about the boys, never about the damaged young women they leave behind. The scenes in which Rachel uses her powers might be the most typical horror moments, but it is when The Rage chimes with those moments of our reality that are at the most unsettling. A coach bullies the football players with misogynistic insults as a bizarre form of motivation. They engage in pre-game rituals that involve a lot of chest-beating and roaring. And because they belong to the prominent town families, they’re protected by the town’s patriarchal institutions, despite the best efforts of the Sheriff.
There is also a solid exploration of trauma in the return of Amy Irving’s Sue Snell. Irving gives a quiet, unshowy performance, but her reactions to the manifestations of Rachel’s power would tell enough of the story even without the quick flashbacks to Brian de Palma’s film. It’s obvious that Sue sees Rachel as a second chance to help a teenager in the way that she couldn’t help Carrie. As well as providing a thru-line from the original Carrie, she acts as a walking reminder of the kind of havoc that Rachel could wreak if her emotional state breaks down enough.
Despite being extremely strong in terms of its themes, The Rage does have a few flaws that let it down along the way. There are some odd stylistic choices when Rachel uses her powers that don’t gel with the rest of the film. Though the jarring effect was probably intentional, it pulls you out of big moments too much for the transition to land at the right level. The climax, when Rachel takes revenge on those who harmed both herself and Lisa, also contrasts sharply to the understated horror that the film spent so much time on before.
The performances, Amy Irving aside, are on the uneven side too. Emily Bergl has moments where she makes for a compelling lead and the scenes in which Rachel slowly falls in love with Jesse are particularly sweet. But she lacks the range in stillness that Sissy Spacek has and Rachel occasionally gets lost as a character in the world around her. Jason London does his best with the bland love interest role, but never manages to sell Jesse’s awakening from dumb jock mode. As main antagonists Eric and Mike, Zachary Ty Bryan and Dylan Bruno are suitably slimy and infuriating. At least the finale gets their comeuppance right.
There are ropey moments in The Rage, but it is not afraid to do depart from de Palma’s movie and do its own thing as well as having something to say for itself. When you consider some of the sequels I’ve watched over the course of these King articles, you’ll understand why I think The Rage is such a delightful surprise. A solid B-movie effort with a brain.
Scariest moment: When alleged statutory rapist Eric goes to meet the junior DA and the Sheriff with his dad and the senior DA comes in and coolly, calmly, and calculatingly reframes the situation to avoid controversy for Eric’s family and those of his friends and thereby secure the powerful families’ votes for an upcoming election. Eric and the cabal of football players will get away with the behaviour that caused a young woman to die by suicide. Not paranormal, simply scarily believable.
Musicality: Some glorious late 90s tunes on this soundtrack including Yorkshire’s own Paradise Lost. The film’s worth a viewing just for the music, to be honest.
A King thing: Isolated people having powers crops up again and again through King’s work. The Rage isn’t a King story, of course, just an addition to one, but Rachel has plenty in common with characters like Carrie White most obviously, but also Danny Torrance, Abra Stone, and Johnny Smith.
Join me next time, Constant Reader, for Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Revenge (Geddit?)