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Friday, September 24, 2010

I Spit on Your Grave, Version 2.0: All the Depravity, with Half the Misogyny!

If you were one of those who were concerned that Cinetel Films' remake of Meir Zarchi's infamous grindhouse "classic" I Spit on Your Grave was going to be a tame, watered-down, "safe" affair--well, allow me to inform you that you need not be concerned. Steven R. Monroe's much-debated new version, I'm here to announce, is not at all afraid to shock, disturb, and thoroughly get inside your head. In a time when horror film seems to be devolving more and more into self-parody, I Spit on Your Grave is a raw, unflinching, grueling experience, lacking even an ounce of post-ironic camp. And dare I say it, a superior film to the original.

Granted, many might point out that this isn't really saying much, considering that the original I Spit on Your Grave isn't exactly Suspiria or The Shining. What it did have going for it, however, was that raw power to deeply disturb, and I can honestly say that, despite a few choices that reflect a different mindset at work than 30 years ago, on the whole the film manages to pack a similar punch to the original, while at the same time giving us a better-made and more engaging motion picture.

One of the biggest problems I always had about the original was the way in which it was angled as some sort of pro-feminist ode to the empowerment of women, when if you come down to it, it is more a shamelessly misogynistic attempt to titillate through the gratuitous depiction of rape and dehumanization of women. This time around, Monroe and company manage to create a work that doesn't cop out, yet chooses to take a higher moral ground, if that makes any sense at all. Don't get me wrong, the film isn't without a certain element of sordid titillation, but one never gets the sense of over-the-top sleaziness one gets from the original.

For those not aware, I Spit on Your Grave (or ISOYG) tells the story of one Jennifer Hill (played here by Sarah Butler), a beautiful young writer who is brutally raped by a gang of backwoods hooligans while staying at a secluded cabin, only to escape and later wreak a bloody vengeance upon all of them. This time around, those same basic elements are still in place, and in fact there is even a certain attempt to duplicate the gritty, washed out look of '70s-era grindhouse cinema, for which kudos go to British cinematographer Neil Lisk. This technical aspect is just another area in which this remake trumps the original.

I would be loathe to say that I "enjoyed" the film more than I "enjoyed" the original, since I can't feel comfortable using that word in relation whatsoever to either version. This is grim, cringe-inducing film-making of the highest order, and rest assured that there were more than a few hoity-toity reviewers at the sneak preview I attended uttering exclamations of disgust and glancing around the room in disbelief that we were all actually witnessing what was happening on screen. Nevertheless, what I will say is that I was able to appreciate the quality of the finished product, and the way it took me back to my younger days, in which my ironic, angsty self would actively push the envelope to seek out the most disturbing cinematic experiences possible. I don't do that so much anymore, and I admit a movie like ISOYG is no longer really my cup of tea. But one cannot help but be impressed with the chances it takes, and the bold manner in which Stuart Morse's script embraces the material head-on.

I'm happy to report that the film-makers did make the decision to somewhat truncate the original's infamous 30-minute rape scene (nearly one third of the entire running time of the movie). Nevertheless, just because it is cut short from the longest rape scene in movie history, doesn't exactly make it a walk in the park, or anything short of thoroughly unsettling. And frankly, if you're the kind of person who's going to find fault with less rapiness in your I Spit on Your Grave, well, I don't feel a really compelling need to know you. Also, Morse's script makes the wise choice of removing all the contemptible nonsense about Jennifer seducing the man who raped her just so she could punish him. That little bit of high-grade woman-hating was thankfully excised, but make no mistake--retribution is still handily meted out.

Which brings me to my next observation, having very much to do with the revenge aspect of the film. In general, I'm all about revenge movies. Give me Death Wish, Braveheart, or any number of cheesy Steven Segal flicks, and I'm instantly and perversely happy. Hell, you're listening to someone who watched Mel Gibson's Payback on his wedding night, while eating from a gigantic bowl of hot wings. There's just something that appeals to me deep inside about watching despicable wrong-doers get what they have coming to them, in gratuitous fashion.

And yet, this movie seemed to taunt me, to toy with the fascination many seem to have with that kind of movie. Because although I may be tarred and feathered for saying it, I couldn't help but feel that in the context of the story, there's no way these guys deserved what she did to them, heinous though their crime was. And that's not to say they didn't deserve death, which they most assuredly did; just not the biblically epic series of elaborate, sadistic tortures visited upon them by Jennifer. It is almost as if the film-makers are glutting us with the notion of vengeance, testing us to see how much we can handle--"Oh yeah, you want to see some payback. Want these guys to get what they have coming to them? OK, well how about this? Can you handle this? What's wrong, too much for you?"

The feeling of grim satisfaction that usually attends these kinds of films here quickly evaporates, due to the simple fact that Jennifer has become a far worse monster than any of her attackers ever were. This is even more the case than in the original; here, Jennifer has several weeks to plot her revenge, and comes up with a series of horrific set-pieces that make much of the Camille Keaton's revenge in the original seem like Elmo's World.

The influence of the torture porn movement, and Saw in particular, is evident in the manner in which Jennifer exacts her cold and calculated vengeance, depicted in far more elaborate and sadistic fashion than in the Camille Keaton original. Aside from one unforgivably bad CGI shot, this stuff is about as rough to sit through as anything witnessed in the heyday of grindhouse horror.

Granted, much of it is far-fetched in its overly choreographed nature, but that's simply one of the feats of suspension of disbelief expected of the viewer, much like the mysterious ability of this waifish girl to physically overpower her attackers. I could've also done without the endless stream of corny one-liners that pour from Sarah Butler's lips during the film's final act. Her character's descent into lame Schwarzenegger-style quips really took me out of it, and felt out of place in a movie like this.

From a dramatic standpoint, matters are salvaged via the efforts of our gang of thugs, led by Jeff Branson in the role of Johnny. Unlike anyone portrayed in the original, Branson takes us on an emotional journey here; we can see the wheels turning in his head, the processes that lead him to such dark places. It's a very strong performance, as is that of Chad Lindberg as the mentally handicapped Matthew, a highly controversial character from the original that was thankfully not sacrificed at the altar of political correctness this time out. Also impressive is Welsh actor Andrew Howard in a downright chilling turn as the morally bankrupt Sheriff Storch.

The addition of this character, in fact, is one of the ways the films actually ups the ante from the original in terms of head games it seeks to play with the viewer. Even those thoroughly familiar with the original will be pretty much caught off guard by this new character, an addition to the which brings along with it quite a bit of baggage. Unlike his young and dumb cohorts, the Sherrif is an authority figure and family man, making his actions all the more unthinkably reprehensible. As a family man myself, there were certain moments in this film that nearly made me physically ill. A dear friend of mine, who had the privilege of being shown the script before filming even began, let me know all about this fresh, warped twist, yet it still did nothing prepare me for it.

I have a lot of respect for the always on-point Anchor Bay Films for having the gumption to theatrically release the unrated cut of this film--the version I witnessed Wednesday night--despite the fact that an R-rated cut does exist. In the age of PG-13 slasher films, and cop-out unrated DVD releases, that truly is a rarity. Much like the Last House on the Left remake, which I also thought was quite good, though not as good as this, this is a movie that bucks the trend of much of modern horror, which is to either go the route of tongue-in-cheek or give us a stylized, "isn't this cool" version of horror violence. I Spit on Your Grave is like a kick to the gut, and impressively derives its shock value without going the easier route of traditional exploitation cinema.

23 comments:

Captain said...

you make me want to go see this now.. (gasp!) I know.. Cruella in a dark theater? I'll be sure to keep the stab wounds above the belt and honestly? The cover alone "grips" me into wanting to see it. Is her bum in any scenes? If so. I'm SO there. ;)

B-Sol said...

Hahaha sicko :-P
Yes, her bum and a whole lot more. I was surprised, actually. Sarah Butler is quite the trooper. No body double, as far as I could tell.
But yeah, it's quite the rough viewing experience, but I think you'd dig it.

Keri said...

I am genuinely intrigued now. The trailer (with that hammy "It's date night" line) had pretty much convinced me not to bother, but, hey, now I will. I'm not a huge fan of the original because, as you suggest, the revenge hardly balances out that gratuitously long rape scene. Sounds as if my initial desire for more punishment might well be tested here.

B-Sol said...

Yes, the tagline is ridiculously cheesy...and unfortunately the line is in the movie, along with a bunch of other stupid one-liners. However, that was probably my biggest gripe. And yes, you're very right about the viewer's thirst for revenge being tested with this one. Whereas in the original, it didn't feel like it was enough, here one can't help but feel that it is actually far above and beyond!

Brian (a.k.a. Hellstorm) said...

Hooray for remakes! ;)

Katiebabs/ KB said...

Please tell me the revenge Jennifer gets is gruesome and she makes her rapists suffer. I'm not sure I could handle the rape scenes though.

Planet of Terror said...

Incredible review B-Sol. I can't wait to see this. Sounds like it hits the mark (and your gut).

Brian (a.k.a. Hellstorm) said...

@Katiebabs

You can handle the gruesome suffering of the rapists, but not the gruesome suffering of a woman being raped (which is the rationalization for the gruesome suffering of the rapists)?

Rabid Fox said...

Glad to hear that the film isn't an abomination unto the original--another movie I have yet to see but want to--though I am hesitant and a bit cynical to hear that the revenge element takes on a tone akin to Saw. That strikes me as unfortunate.

Brian (a.k.a. Hellstorm) said...

Now I know why directors like Eli Roth and Rob Zombie ignore complaints about their films. If a film isn't as sleazy/violent as some film from the 70s-80s, it gets dismissed for being watered-down, and if it goes that far - or further - it gets dismissed as "torture porn".

B-Sol said...

The revenge scenes come with a certain amount satisfaction, because you feel hatred for the antagonists and you want them to suffer, whereas Jennifer's rape is a brutal assault on a total innocent. Big diff.
Rabid, as far as the Saw element, it's just a hint, not enough to really be groan-inducing. One kill in particular especially smacks of it.
And what I appreciated about the movie is that it skirts both worlds, it deals with the subject matter of exploitation cinema without devolving into borderline pornography, and it also veers a bit into torture porn, just a touch, without going overboard and becoming a Hostel clone. That impressed me.

Katiebabs/ KB said...

Hellstorm: I hate to see innocent people suffer, but when it comes to those who are causing the pain, I want them to die a horrible, painful death.

Brian (a.k.a. Hellstorm) said...

B-Sol said...

"The revenge scenes come with a certain amount satisfaction, because you feel hatred for the antagonists and you want them to suffer, whereas Jennifer's rape is a brutal assault on a total innocent. Big diff."

I get that, but the satisfaction comes from the hatred one feels BECAUSE of the brutal assault on a total innocent. How much does the hatred - and the satisfaction - one feels diminish if the assault is less brutal?

Emily said...

Great review Brian. I’m pretty intrigued by this film. I really appreciate the original and often find myself defending it and its intentions. I do disagree about one thing: I find Jennifer’s murder of the main rapist in the bathtub an incredibly intriguing scene as she listens to him talk through his own misogyny. Not the most PC of course, but there’s something fascinating in hearing this “family man” try to justify why he raped a sexy ‘city woman’ with the gall to come into his domain.

Overall, I’m glad to hear that the filmmakers tried some different things with the story while keeping the basic tone. Sounds similar in feel to how the Last House remake was handled. Is this supposed to get a theatrical release?

B-Sol said...

Yep, Emily, I'm psyched to say that Anchor Bay is releasing it theatrically, unrated! Take that, 2010!

I just always found the murder of the main rapist so odious because it just smacks of some kind of warped male fantasy, that a rape victim would come back seduce her attacker, know what I mean? It's insulting.

And yes, it does feel in some ways like the LHOTL remake, in that they tried to actively up the ante from the original, while making some interesting new choices to surprise those loyal to it.

Emily said...

See I never felt like she was GOING to seduce him. Maybe she planned to shoot him first, then realized she could essentially cause him far more pain by teasing him the way she does. It's that awful cruelty of someone sparing your life so you get that incredible relief, then killing you anyway. It felt more like she uses her sexuality simply to maximize the effect of her vengeance.

Mikki said...

Great review. I saw the original years ago. Maybe it's time to see it again. But I'll probably have to wait for this one on dvd. I highly doubt the theaters in Montgomery, Alabama are going to play this one :(

Missy Y. (formerly A Case of You) said...

Just to confirm here, the rape is not less brutal. It's just less visible.

I have a problem with the notion of turning Jennifer into a monster. I feel that when the narrative focus shifts to the perpetrators, we're almost expected to sympathize with them, and her actions being so over-the-top render her rape almost meaningless. It's like "Sure, they raped her, but look what she's become." That first clause revels in a meaninglessness to the original crime. I just couldn't stomach that.

Brian (a.k.a. Hellstorm) said...

Just for clarification, I wasn't suggesting that the rape was depicted less brutally than the revenge scenes. What I meant was, if the rape scene isn't horrific (this is supposed to be a horror film, right?), isn't it harder to consider her a sympathetic character when she's taking the law into her own hands, making herself judge, jury and executioner?

Missy Y. (formerly A Case of You) said...

I think there was a very plot-driven reason for making the cop a baddie. It was trying to give us a reason that she wouldn't go to the police.

For me, I don't think her taking justice into her own hands makes her less sympathetic. (Of course, I recognize that could just be me.) I mean, I think it's clearly the wrong choice, but I also come with the baggage of understanding the legal system and what that puts a woman through, so I understand the drive. I also understand that an individual might harbor a revenge fantasy, and when one knows (as Jennifer does) that the law will not help her, it would be easy to fall into the trap of exacting your own revenge. Does that make sense?

Also, I do find the rape horrific. It's just not so in the same way as the torture. It's a different kind of horror, but horror nonetheless.

Of course, what I find more horrific is watching the way some audience members react to the rape. If you read Ebert's review of the original, you can see that the people he watched it with were shouting things like, "Yeah, give it to her." Thankfully, when we saw this, that did not happen, but I always wonder about the motivations of some viewers. Perhaps that's foolish, but I can't help it.

B-Sol said...

Hmmm...I hadn't heard that about Ebert, how unfortunate. No, thankfully nothing like that at our screening. Just some really loud, across-the-aisles, pre-show conversations...sheesh lol

B-Movie Becky said...

What a thorough review! Well written B-Sol. I went from being apathetic about this film to genuinely interested after seeing new trailers and reading some good reviews. I wonder how this unrated release is going to pan out....hopefully it makes it to more screens than Hatchet II (which had only 67).

B-Sol said...

Yeah, I'm hoping it does better than Hatchet II as well! Thanks for checking out my review, glad you enjoyed it.

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