I Spit On Your Grave
Dir. Steven R. Monroe
A young writer is brutally gang-raped while staying at a secluded cabin. She is left for dead by her attackers, whom she systematically hunts down to extract unmerciful and gruesome revenge.
The remake of I Spit On Your Grave is a film of two distinct parts. The first unravels slowly, sweatily, as Jennifer (Sarah Butler) arrives at her rented lakeside cabin in the middle of nowhere and sets about preparing to write her second novel. The cabin is idyllic - though it is obvious just from looking at it, things will become more ominous when night falls - and Jennifer, like any good writer, has stocked up on the red stuff to get those creative juices flowing and help her settle in. No, the other red stuff. Events move slowly, purposefully and the slow-burning tension is ignited from the get-go, only to increase as the story unfolds. We follow Jennifer as she goes about her daily, mundane routines, oblivious to the fact that she is being watched and filmed by the young men she encountered earlier at a gas station. She incurred their curiosity and wrath when she inadvertently humiliated (emasculated) one of them. Realising that she is staying at the cabin they skulk around the surrounding woods at night and film her. Every so often she wanders out into the cold, dark night to investigate strange noises, raising the tension that little bit more. We know what’s coming, and director Monroe knows that we know, and he builds queasy suspense with ease.
The events that follow are harrowing. The depiction of her attack is difficult to watch, but the most affecting moment comes in the stifling quiet of the aftermath as she slowly hobbles away in a state of shock, her body and spirit broken. It’s a pathetic, stark and overwhelming sight.
After she disappears, the film makes a strangely daring and somewhat frustrating move and begins to follow her attackers; not so much in an attempt to flesh them out, but just to observe them from a distance and maybe even relish in their anxiety when they don’t find Jennifer’s body right away... The sheriff (Andrew Howard) is a thinly-drawn family man, but after witnessing what he did to Jennifer, no amount of picturing him cuddled on the couch watching TV with his pregnant wife and little girl will make us feel anything but contempt for him. He is the ringleader – his role made all the more shocking because of his status as a sheriff – someone who should have helped Jennifer. Writer Stuart Morse doesn’t even attempt to make us care for these men. Likewise, director Monroe is perhaps more concerned with setting up tension surrounding Jennifer’s imminent return to draw blood, than character profile.
When Jennifer does finally return to the narrative, the film switches gear into what at times resembles a crowd-pleasing and tightly wound revenge fantasy. As she dishes out vigilante punishment, she layers on the wry, disgruntled and faux-feminist sass, spouting lines like ‘Is that any way to treat a lady?’ before producing a sizable pair of garden shears and castrating one of her attackers.
The punishments walk a line between intricately designed Saw-type restraints boasting nasty pay-offs, and the Grand Guignol showmanship of vintage Italian horror movies – the scene with the eyelids, fish-hooks and hungry crows is pure Argento – brutal, fantastic and more than a little convoluted.
As Jennifer, Sarah Butler delivers a very convincing performance, and she remains credible even when she returns later and starts sassin' it up big style. As her attackers Jeff Branson, Daniel Franzese and Rodney Eastman (pretty Joey from A Nightmare of Elm Street 3 and 4, who ain’t so pretty anymore!) are suitably menacing and sleazy; all crotch-grabbin’ and phlegm-spittin’ rednecks that can not, and will not, be reasoned with.
With no moral grey area, Jennifer is allowed to let rip in the full knowledge that the audience will side with her. This isn’t a film to pose provocative questions, it merely attempts to uphold the spirit and atmosphere of the original, which is does quite well. It is nowhere near as polished and slick as many other recent remakes of old exploitation flicks have been. It is also unexpectedly, slyly humorous; particularly in the last act. Whether or not this is appropriate given the tone of the first two acts, it still works somehow; especially in a film depicting events this grim, a little light relief was mildly welcome. Then again there is the argument that with a film such as this, depicting events this grim, there should be no place for humour and that the director has copped-out and gone down the multiplex route. The fact is though, the original was a grimy, sleazy exploitation flick deliberately fashioned to draw the grindhouse crowds. The pro-feminist coda was slapped on post-release. It is also worth mentioning that Monroe has the sense not to have Jennifer use her feminine charms/wiles to lull her attackers into a false sense of seduction before she bumps them off. Her approach is blunt and to the point.
This remake is a well made, compelling and disturbing film, and one struggles to imagine any other way in which Monroe could have tackled such controversial source material.