Raising Cain (1992)

  • Time: 91 min
  • Genre: Crime | Drama | Thriller
  • Director: Brian De Palma
  • Cast: John Lithgow, Lolita Davidovich, Steven Bauer


Jenny Nix, wife of eminent child psychologist Carter Nix, becomes increasingly concerned about her husband’s seemingly obsessive concern over the upbringing of their daughter. Her own adulterous affair with an old flame, however, causes her to neglect her motherly duties until a spate of local kidnapings forces her to accept the possibility that he may be trying to recreate the twisted mind-control experiments of his discreditied psychologist father.

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  • After the critical and commercial public flogging he received for his bastardisation of Tom Wolfe’s fascinating, multi-layered and often hilarious novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, Brian De Palma turned back to the genre that had served him well early on his career, the psychological thriller. With crime ‘biopic’ The Untouchables (1987) and the hit-and-miss war drama Casualties of War (1989), De Palma has seemingly turned his back on the world of Hitchockian suspense, but his career was in serious danger. The result was Raising Cain, a movie so utterly ludicrous and ham-fisted that it’s a wonder how he is still making movies. Yet, there’s something perversely irresistible about the film.

    Dr. Carter Nix (John Lithgow) is a respected psychologist suffering from multiple personality disorder, who, at the beginning of the movie, chloroforms a young mother and steals her child while being egged on by one of his cockier alter-egos, Cain. His wife Jenny (90’s mainstay Lolita Davidovich) is concerned that Carter is spending too much time obsessing over their daughter, who he seems to view more of a subject of study than his own flesh and blood. Jenny rekindles a romance with a former flame, Jack (Steven Bauer), and the two are spotted by Carter making love in the woods. As Carter struggles to keep his many personalities in check, Jenny struggles to separate her dreams from reality.

    While watching the movie, I kept wondering if this was truly the same De Palma who forged such well-constructed thrillers as Sisters (1973), Dressed to Kill (1980) and Blow Out (1981); films that often carefully towed the line of B-movie daftness yet managed to stay grounded. Is Raising Cain a bad movie? Yes, probably. But with the casting of De Palma’s favourite ham John Lithgow and its sickly, TV movie aesthetic, there’s something oddly fascinating about its silliness. It attempts to confuse its already convoluted plot even further by staging scenes within dreams within memories within more dreams. While this is certainly frustrating, I was still rooted to my seat, desperate to see how this nonsense plays out. His films are often divisive, but Raising Cain had even the most hardcore De Palma fans questioning their loyalty. Personally, my love far outweighed the hate.

    Rating: 4/5

    Read more reviews at The Wrath of Blog

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