Wednesday, 9 March 2011

I Spit On Your Grave

2010
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.

10 comments:

Jessica Penot said...

You review would make me want to watch this film, but the rape scenes in the original were so graphic I'm hesitant. I have no desire to revisit rape scenes like that again.

A.D. said...

Glad you didn't hate this one, James. I'm a fan of this remake, which I never thought I'd say when I first heard this movie was being made. It's flawed in a lot of areas, but I love Sarah Butler, so yeah.

James said...

Yes Jessica, those scenes were intensely discomfiting - they are here too. Though as I mentioned, it is the depiction of Jennifer in the aftermath of the rape scenes that really shook me up. Sad, tragic, vulnerable and truly stark.

Aaron I really liked Sarah Butler in this too. She has an endearing girl-next-door aura that makes her instantly likable and relatable.

Emily said...

I agree with your thoughts, although I don't know where I fall in terms of knowing how it affected me. The buildup to and execution of the rape is surprisingly well done, and then...she's rigging a dude to get his eyes pecked out by crows. It's SUCH a huge switch that left me entertained, but lacking any sort of emotional connection to what was onscreen.

James said...

Maybe this is a good thing, Emily? To have been emotionally connected would have meant the impact of this film could have been utterly devasting - possibly resembling something like The Accused as a rape-revenge fantasy. Ultimately though, it's a remake of something which was deliberately designed to titillate, shock and dismay, not probe into the inner recesses of human nature. And as much as I liked Sarah Butler, she’s no Jodie Foster.
I think it walked the line fairly tightly and offers a little subtext if that's what people want, but is more concerned with spinning a gripping and unsettling yarn.

What do you think though? Do you think it would have been more powerful had the shift in tone not been so obvious?? As obvious as it was, I really don’t think it deterred too much from the impact of all the earlier stuff, though I agree – there was no emotional anchor after it, and it was all a bit 'crowd-pleasing'. Having said that, it wasn’t played for laughs, and all the revenge stuff was still pretty nasty – just nasty in a different way than the first half of the film.

As outrageous as it was, I kinda loved the crows!

One could really write so much about this…

Emily said...

Hm. I do appreciate that it approached the material differently from the original, but I guess part of it is I've read Men Women and Chainsaws too many times to not think that the original HAS intended subtext. My favorite scene in that one is when the main rapist has the bath with Jennifer, where he rambles a little about how women make him feel and all. I thought the remake was going for a sort of rich vs. poor gender mix, but then it just sort of gives up and gives us crow attacks

(which in fairness, where hysterical and awesome).

Maybe I just find shotguns lodged in anuses because my sense of humor is odd? Was I not supposed to laugh at that?

Overall I don't know. As a remake, I think it did some really interseting things. I just don't know if the decision to switch gears into torture porn was chickening out or ambition. It's hard to just lose any sense of connection to a character I guess...

James said...

Erm, I also found the scene with the shotgun darkly humorous - and ridiculously elaborate!
I think it was intended as a 'male rape', what with guns being penises and all. Thanks Carol Clover!

I'm a fucking heathen, you know: I haven't seen the original I Spit On Your Grave.

*tumbleweed across horror blogosphere*

I had always intended to check it out, though it just happened that I got given the remake before I had a chance to to. I thought 'fuck it', I'm sure I'll still be able to appreciate the original having seen the remake first (didn't taint my enjoyment of the likes of The Hills Have Eyes or Ju-On). The original has been released here recently, so when next I can afford it, I'll maybe pick up a copy...

I'm just not sure a good ol' rape/revenge movie such as ISOYG is something I'd ever want to watch again. Especially if it's as intense as I've been lead to believe.

Emily said...

Here's a way to watch the original ISPYG without feeling too icky: the writer/director made the film after driving in NYC one day and finding a woman curled up on the side of the road. She had been raped, so he brought her to a police station and was so horrified at how she was treated that he decided to make ISOYG as a sort of penance and revenge for her. It certainly makes the film feel purposeful.

James said...

Is that true, Emily?? I had no idea. Thanks for sharing. I'm already seeing ISOYG in a whole other light now...

TheGirlWhoLovesHorror said...

I'm gonna say it again - after you watch the original, watch it again with the commentary by Joe Bob Briggs on the Millennium edition DVD. He has such wonderful insights into the film that he really helped me appreciate it so much more. Director Meir Zarchi also has a commentary (yup, the story Emily mentioned is real and he talks about in detail on the commentary) but his voice is a little monotonous and he's not as much fun to listen to! Sorry, Zarchi.