I Spit on Your Grave
by Jason Coffman
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To say the very least, the concept of a remake of 1978’s notorious “Rape/Revenge” shocker I Spit on Your Grave is problematic. The original remains powerfully divisive, with violent detractors seeming to have the majority vote. However, as with any cult classic, the film also has its rabid fans. So the question is: who is the remake for? Anyone who loathes the original film is not likely to have a different opinion of this new take on the same story, and fans of the original are probably not too happy about the fact that remake exists at all. Whatever the intentions of the filmmakers of the original film, the 2010 model of I Spit on Your Grave is clearly meant to be a “more accessible” take on the “Rape/Revenge” formula. Which raises another serious question: Does anyone really need or want that?
As in the original, Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) is a writer taking time out of the city to visit a cabin in the woods and work on her new book. She stops to get gas and meets Johnny (Jeff Branson), Andy (Rodney Eastman) and Stanley (Daniel Franzese). There is no question as soon as these men appear on the screen that they are violent, menacing characters. Soon enough, these backwoods monsters decide they’re going to force a local disabled boy, Matthew (Chad Lindberg) to have sex with Jennifer and take this “city bitch” down a peg. What follows is a very nasty series of scenes of the men menacing, assaulting, and finally raping Jennifer before she jumps into a creek and disappears, presumably drowned.
Except, of course, anyone familiar with the original film even by reputation will know that Jennifer will be back to exact revenge on her attackers. In the original film, Jennifer used her sexuality against the men by seducing and killing them. This aspect of the original film is completely absent in the remake: Jennifer traps, tortures, and kills mercilessly in a series of tortures much more elaborate than those in the 1978 film. For good measure, this version also adds a fifth man to the ranks of Jennifer’s attackers, presumably to give the audience a little more revenge for their money. What this basically does is split one of the original characters into two, so one remains the cruel, hateful redneck and the other gets to have a family. This mostly serves to simply flatten both characters to single dimensions so the audience won’t be too put off when Jennifer kills them.
At a purely caveman level, I Spit on Your Grave is bluntly effective. At the preview screening, people were cheering on Jennifer’s gruesome vengeance. There’s no question that the “revenge” part of the film works on that lizard-brain level. Bad men (acted capably so the audience truly hates them) get bad things done to them in a frenzy of pure dramatic catharsis. For anyone who spends much time thinking about what they watch, though, I Spit on Your Grave is likely to cause seriously mixed feelings. While it is brutal and unpleasant, the lengthy scenes of Jennifer being attacked by the rednecks were clearly calculated to be difficult but not too difficult— if it was played out at the level of, say, Irreversible, it would be too horrifying and would dull the “fun” of the rest of the film. Similarly, the revenge sequences are violent, but not appreciably more so than, say, Hostel.
This reluctance to push the boundaries of depictions of violence is what ultimately makes I Spit on Your Grave, as a remake, feel dishonest. Given the original film’s reputation, it would follow that a remake would bring a comparable level of horror to modern audiences that the original did for its contemporary audience. Instead, the original is given the Platinum Dunes treatment: everything looks gray and extra dirty, but the film is clearly made at a high level of technical competence and there’s the distinct sense that the story has been market-tested so it’s mean and brutal but not too mean and brutal to put off the intended audience. On that level, at least, I Spit on Your Grave certainly succeeds. Anyone seriously troubled by the concept of either rape or revenge as entertainment, though, should steer well clear— and keep their fingers crossed that it doesn’t signal the coming of the “Popcorn Rape/Revenge” film.
Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He writes reviews for Film Monthly and “The Crown International Files” for Criticplanet.org.
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