The Final Girls Club is a column posting every 1st, 3rd and 4th Monday of the month. It aims to take an analytical and retrospective look at female-led horror cinema and how these films hold up in the context of current issues surrounding gender, sexuality and politics.
Horror sequels often get a hard time of it, especially if they are sequels to beloved horror classics. This is definitely true of The Rage: Carrie 2. Released 23 years after the original movie, The Rage often gets a lot of abuse for being seen as a cash-grab sequel or simply a rehashing of the original story.
However, rather than step on the toes of its predecessor, The Rage is here to tell a deeper story. Where Carrie was a seminal tale of periods and repressed female sexuality, The Rage instead deals with toxic masculinity, jock culture, and the damaging effect these can have on young women.
Much like Carrie (Sissy Spacek) before her, Rachel (Emily Bergl) has a mentally unstable mother who is trying to deal with the emergence of her daughter’s telekinetic powers. This time around, Rachel is placed with a foster family when she is a child, but 13 years later she still finds herself on the outskirts, having never really bonded with her new carers. Her only close relationship in the world is her friend Lisa (Mena Suvari). Their bond, along with their 90s goth status, is solidified by the fact they share matching tribal rose tattoos.
At the start of the film, we find out Lisa has just lost her virginity, and while she’s keen to spill the beans to Rachel, she tells Rachel she’ll introduce her to her new man at lunchtime. However, before we get that far, Lisa is seen leaving a note in her locker, before she jumps off the school roof onto a car below.
This is understandably an emotional blow to Rachel, and it reawakens the powers she seems to have had under control since the night she was separated from her mother. Her grief emanates from her and spreads through the campus, blowing open the doors of every locker in her vicinity.
It transpires that Lisa’s death is the result of a sex game between the members of the football team. Scoring themselves points for how many girls they have sex with, along with rating the girls based on how attainable they are, the boys are trying to out-do each other.
This is where we see Rachel’s rage starts to build to a breaking point, and we get to the core issue of the movie. Titling the film The Rage shows us that we’re never supposed to view Rachel as a monster or as someone we should be afraid of. Instead, the rage is a representation of the anger that women frequently feel about the way they are treated in society. This rage is often suppressed, as we’re forced to bite our tongues or smile along in order to avoid causing a fuss or be seen as difficult. Much like Rachel’s power, it’s something we often try to hold in. However, there is only so much a person can take, and this approach can lead to anger reaching a boiling point before the inevitable release.
This is a pivotal time in Rachel’s life, because as well as growing up and going through a lot of changes, Rachel is having to deal with the realisation that these societal norms exist which often rate women as second-class citizens. This key stage of high school is where things such as jock culture can start to rear their ugly head and start to affect young women negatively.
Rachel incurs the wrath of the football players when she refuses to help Mark (Dylan Bruno) cover up the situation surrounding Lisa’s death. After developing a roll of film for Lisa, Rachel finds a photo of Lisa and Eric together. Between the photos and Lisa’s suicide note, the police figure out Eric’s involvement in the situation. The school guidance counsellor, Sue Snell (Amy Irving) and the police decide to push for a charge of statutory rape against Eric in order to punish him, and try and stop the football team continuing with their behaviour. Sue, in particular, discusses the effect the continued actions of the team is having on the young women in the school, and how she wants to prevent anyone else harming themselves as a result.
Sue is a character from the original Carrie movie, and after surviving Carrie’s attack at the prom, she knows firsthand the effect this sort of clique culture can have on teenagers. She also highlights the importance of tackling these sorts of issues as they start to emerge rather than allow them to continue to develop and be carried into adulthood. By allowing these young men to believe their actions are acceptable in high school, they are more likely to continue acting this way as they grow older, spreading these issues through society and passing them on to future generations.
While Eric is briefly suspended from the school, his lawyer father, as well as his family connections to the district attorney, means the criminal convictions get thrown out almost instantly. It’s a familiar tale, with the whole thing being blamed on “youthful transgressions” and trying to avoid “tarnishing these boy’s reputations.” Everyone’s only concern is for how this situation could ruin Eric’s life, with no consideration for how it’s already ruined Lisa’s.
The football players decide to use Rachel’s burgeoning relationship with their teammate, Jessie (Jason London), as a weapon to punish Rachel. However, they don’t simply want to get even with her; they want to destroy her. After appearing to welcome Rachel into their friendship group, the team quickly devastate her by making her believe Jessie only slept with her to win their sex game. After humiliating her in front of the whole party, they screen a secret recording of Jessie and Rachel having sex.
Revenge porn isn’t something that made its way into the public consciousness until around 2012 when Charlotte Laws spoke out against the website IsAnyoneUp.com. The site was well-known for featuring explicit content of individuals without their content, and Charlotte Laws’ battle with the site owner, Hunter Moore, led to many places making revenge porn illegal.
The intent of revenge porn is always to humiliate the people involved, and potentially ruin their life by exposing something private without their consent. The football team risk embarrassing Jessie too, but they know that his involvement in the sex tape will likely be seen as ‘boys will be boys’ behaviour. He is more likely to be congratulated for his sexual conquest rather than be humiliated by the experience.
The football players believe that sleeping around and having sex gives them all the power in the school, and yet they know it will ruin Rachel’s reputation. By subjecting her to revenge porn they perpetuated the stereotype that men should be loud and proud about their sexual activity, while women should not participate in it, and definitely shouldn’t enjoy it. Even in 1999, The Rage knew the devastating effect revenge porn could have on those involved, and even demonstrates how much worse the results can be for women.
The movie also touches on how internalised sexism among women can create just as many issues as men being hateful towards women. Tracy (Charlotte Ayanna), who has previously been involved with Jessie, is resentful towards Rachel because she can’t understand why Jessie would choose to date a goth nobody over a popular cheerleader. Tracy and her friend, Monica (Rachel Blanchard), decide to assist the football team in their plan so that Tracy can have Jessie all to herself.
The truth is, Tracy and Monica are so blind to their own internal misogyny that they don’t find any problem with going along with the football team’s plan to embarrass Rachel if it benefits them in the end. Both girls witness the team talking about their sex game, and yet, not once do they voice their disgust. Even though the girls and the football players dislike Rachel for different reasons, they are all part of the same wider problem. The Rage shows that this type of toxicity doesn’t always come from men, but has the same result as it continues to perpetuate the stereotypes of how men and women should act when it comes to sex, and in society in general.
The football team comes from privileged families, and as the most popular kids in school, they very rarely have to deal with people refusing or punishing them. Their hatred for Rachel is purely because she refuses to play by their rules. The jocks think they have the power to silence Rachel by destroying her, as is so often the case when women speak out against sexual violence. Lisa was so devastated by what happened to her that she could only vocalise herself in her suicide note.
Rachel shows why it is so important for us to stand up, say something, and break the cycle of toxic masculinity that women are subjected to every day. While her methods of killing the majority of her high school class may seem a little extreme, it’s the perfect representation of how we can’t simply stay silent and allow this to carry on. We need to be loud and direct to let the world know that acting this way isn’t okay and we’re no longer going to stand by and let it happen to us and those around us.
Rachel stands up to the football players for what they have done to her, but also for what they have done to Lisa and all the other girls they’ve already hurt. She finally ensures the football players will never hurt anyone again by exposing them for what they really are, and no longer allowing them to hide behind their families, their status, or their popularity.
As Rachel’s powers build to the crescendo of release, her rose tattoo begins to spread all over her body, covering her in black, thorny vines. Her power was initially kickstarted by Lisa’s death, and so as her power takes over, it’s no surprise that she draws energy from the symbol that she and her best friend shared. Even in death, the two women show how important it is that we all work together to combat misogyny and show that we will no longer be silenced.
by Kim Morrison