Fantasia 2010: I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE Review

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Fantasia 2010: I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE Review
It is now some nineteen hours since the world premiere of Steven Monroe's remake of notorious rape / revenge picture I Spit On Your Grave began to unspool and, in many ways, I am still processing the experience. There is a lot here to wrap your head around from the film itself, to events that unfolded during and after the screening, to serious philosophical questions about the portrayal of sexual violence, the motivation of those who seek these films out and the responsibilities inherent on film makers who choose to work in this territory. Those looking for a point by point breakdown of how Monroe's version compares to the Meir Zarchi original may as well go and look elsewhere as those issues have no interest for me at all and feel entirely inconsequential next to the larger issues at play.

For those unfamiliar with the premise, I Spit On Your Grave is one of the most notorious films in the history of exploitation cinema, a film that features a young woman gang raped in lengthy, excruciating detail twice before coming back to hunt down and kill the men who attacked her. Meir Zarchi's original version is a film that has been banned virtually everywhere at some time or another and while Monroe's remake - one made with Zarchi on board and heavily involved from start to finish as executive producer - polishes things up to a degree it follows the same basic structure and when it releases this October will go out unrated for a very good reason. This is grim, explicit stuff, and if they were going to cut it there would be no point in having made it in the first place because the violence, however you choose to spin its meaning, is the sole reason for this film existing.

That said, Monroe's I Spit On Your Grave is a film that seems to function on many different levels.

On one level it is a film driven by the need to shock and disturb. This is the film that led to one member of the audience collapsing in the stair well and gashing his face open, requiring treatment by paramedics, while it pushed another to hijack the Q&A session for an extended harangue of Monroe and company, a lengthy rant that ended only after building security made their way down the aisles and into plain view. Festival organizers waved them off but it's hard to imagine this particular outburst ending at all had they not been present.

On another level it is a film that seems to want to present a serious treatment of both the horrific impact of being raped and the motivations of those who carry out such a crime. Though I personally didn't find star Sarah Butler strong enough to really convey the emotion of the pivotal - and lengthy - rape sequence despite a very brave performance, the intention was clearly present to treat these characters as real people rather than just puppets being jerked around on a string. The opening half of the film is shot in as near to a verite style as they can manage with all of the characters given time to breath, the five male players all proving quite strong and surprisingly nuanced.

On yet another level this is a film that brings out the worst inclinations of a large percentage of its audience, more than a few debates breaking out after the film about whether this film or the original had a 'better' rape scene, 'better' being defined not by which was more emotionally effective or more harrowing but by which was lengthier and more detailed, the clear implication being that more rape is more entertainment. Those post-screening moments were noxious and nauseating, a clear demonstration that Monroe's depiction of the rapists in the film was not so far away from human nature as we might want to believe. And, frankly, it raises some uncomfortable questions about the use of rape and subjugation as a marketing tool to draw an audience out and the audience's reasons for seeking this sort of entertainment out in the first place.

On still another level it is a film that aims to entertain the post-Saw crowd with a series of intricate, detailed and extremely bloody kills. This is arguably the level the film works best on - the kills are spectacular, frankly - but it is also a level that works at obvious cross-purposes to the realism that the opening sequences worked to create, stripping out the humanity of its characters for the sake of a few thrills and cheapening the pain of its central character by making her less a victim trying to regain control of her life and more a prettier version of Jigsaw in a miniskirt.

Which raises the whole female empowerment argument for the film, an argument which - as a male - has frankly always struck me as total crap, nothing but a weak justification for the violence spread across the screen because, believe me, when a man watches this film he is not thinking, "Oh, look at the strong woman." That said, the female response to the film seemed remarkably distinct from the male response with several female friends - intelligent, articulate people, all - completely embracing it on that level. And who am I, really, to question what makes a woman feel empowered?

I don't know how to judge this film, honestly. I know I feel like it is flawed in some significant ways but I also know it will give at least a few different audience segments exactly what they want from it. I expect that it will be a modest hit, trading on the notoriety of the title, the extreme violence and Monroe's technical proficiency to create a strong cult following. But while I am certainly no prude when it comes to violence on screen - I have been a vocal supporter of films such as Martyrs, Irreversible and A Serbian Film, for example - I personally found the way the violence was employed in this film troubling on an ethical level and the audience response to it even moreso. Never connecting with the lead character meant that, for me, the rape sequence was reduced to being the rawest sort of exploitation, a detailed, lengthy and explicit sequence of degradation that exists only to set up the kill sequences later in the film. And, on a certain level, that makes it rape as entertainment. And that just doesn't sit well.
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More about I Spit On Your Grave

ChevalierAguilaJuly 12, 2010 7:11 PM

They already remade I Spit on Your Grave, it's called Baise Moi, and it was awful.

cuckooJuly 12, 2010 7:32 PM

Didn't that injured exiting patron thing happen with A Serbian Film as well? Whatever happened to just a good old puking?

EndeneuJuly 12, 2010 8:46 PM

The first film's existence already stirred up my rage long ago as an exploitative piece of crap, however if someone wants to argue that the original creators wanted to experiment with pushing extreme boundaries and evoking emotion, I might not disagree as much as I might still snort derisively.

This film has absolutely no reason for being remade.

We know our horror audience is divided into fans of sub-genres and among those are those fans of torture porn and pointless exploitation. This is not a film or social experiment; this is simply going to gain the director notoriety and future projects and be lapped up by the type of fans who would yawn in boredom as a live spectator watching Christians thrown to the lions.

I'm already pretty appalled to have read an article header that called this movie's one-sheet "sexy"...

brbro4July 12, 2010 9:12 PM

I had no idea they were remaking this. The original was a truly vile film. I can't say I liked anything about it. I Spit on You Grave is more of a grotesque "experience" than a piece of entertainment. Is it bad I still kinda want to see this? I'm too curious not to.

Todd BrownJuly 12, 2010 10:49 PM

In a market screening, yeah.

DavidJuly 12, 2010 10:50 PM

First off, Boise Moi was not a remake of ISOYG. Secondly, there are those who think that people who enjoyed the original or these type of movies would love to watch people getting eaten by lions, or gladiators, or real snuff films. This is an awful stereotype and just not true. I find real violence and bloodshed appalling, but I enjoy the most violent movies, along with comedies, dramas, or any other genre. And sorry, but any beautiful actress showing her mostly bare, perfect behind will always be sexy, regardless of context, because I know it's make believe. The situation portrayed may be terrifying, but it's fictional, so it doesn't stop a model or actress from being beautiful and sexy. My biggest fear is that it's directed by the guy who did Sasquatch Mountain. Now that is truly frightening!

DejanJuly 13, 2010 2:01 AM

In my humble opinion, Zarchi's original doesn't get enough credit for how clever, well made and layered it is.
Harsh as it is, and unblinking in the face of horror, I think that it has a convincing point.
Basically, I agree with Carol Clover's reading of that film.
The remake, whose premiere I saw at Fantasia, is nowhere near the significance of the original. It is just a competent, polished, dumbed-down version for the strong-stomached empty-heads to cheer and root at the sadistic (and unrealistic) ways of dispatching people. Todd's review is spot on, and if I were to write it I wouldn't be so kind towards the remake. It is a shallow product by the people who didn't GET a single thing worth getting from the original. I guess Zarchi produced it solely to get some money for his old days of retirement, because I can't think that he'd approve this script as an improvement, or anything worthwhile.
Both films reflect their respective times - and our times are defined by rather more forgettable, lazy and shallow filmmakers (or should I say / craftsmen).

Agent WaxJuly 13, 2010 3:51 AM

Apparently, some feminists argue that women's empowerment entails exercising gory violence against the opposite sex (this film), dressing in ridiculous fabulous designer clothes and heels not fit for a human being in order to conform to male-centric ideas of beauty and sexiness(Sex and the City), and/or engaging in sexual antics with wanton promiscuity (Sex In The City again). In other words, women's empowerment (for these people) involves women transforming into uncouth, disgusting, 'neanderthal'-like men.

Ooohhhhkkaaayyy...

J HurtadoJuly 13, 2010 10:01 AM

I think I first saw the original when I was 15 or 16, in either case, far too young to process it in any kind of mature way, and I really am not sure that I've watched it all the way through since. I do remember reading "Men, Women, & Chainsaws" a couple of years later for an elective film class in college and being retroactively repulsed by the film. I had to take most of that book with a grain of salt, though. I'd be interested to watch both the original and this new one, however, and create a new opinion, since I have matured and learned more about the politics attached to the film between 1975 and now and the environment in which it was made. I may hate it, but who knows, maybe I'll see something I'm not expecting.

Joshua ChaplinskyJuly 13, 2010 10:11 AM

Great write up. Really sums up the various viewpoints regarding this type of film.

endeneu- my exact reaction at seeing the poster referred to as sexy. I agree that a woman's bare ass is pretty much always sexy, but then I get to thinking what the film is about and wonder if that is the proper way to sell it.

thirsty&miserableJuly 13, 2010 10:46 AM

"this is simply going to be lapped up by the type of fans who would yawn in boredom as a live spectator watching Christians thrown to the lions"

Bored? Not at all! I'd love to see some Christians thrown to the lions! If they could toss in a few condescendingly arrogant knee jerk reactionaries too, that'd make for one hell of a night! However, to stave off the numbing ennui it WOULD be better if the victims were sexy!

walkerpJuly 13, 2010 10:55 AM

I found a point about the rape scene in Dread Central's review quite interesting. They found the scene in the remake pretty straightforward and brutal, where the message was absolutely clear that what was happening to her was horrible. According to them, the scene in the original was much more exploitative and potentially titillating, perhaps more pornographic and thus making male viewers much more uncomfortable about how they were perceiving the scene.

Here, Evil Andy said it better than I can:

"Part of the discomfort in watching the original was that viewers always had to contend with the salacious elements, constantly on guard lest they find themselves titillated rather than terrified. The remake doesn’t even try to walk that razor’s edge, and it’s clear from the start that while the movie is happy to show the obligatory bikini and underwear shots, once the raping begins, the ogling stops. When presenting the horror of rape, the remake seems to declare, “It is now time to feel disturbed”, whereas the original whispered gutturally in your ear, “Are you disturbed?” Big difference. "

I'm blogging the entire Fantasia experience if you and your readers are interested:

http://briquesduneige.blogspot.com/

Also, I have to disagree with your suggestion that the security guards were necessary. Mitch and Meir Zarchi were totally on point in the way they handled this guy. His only problem was that he didn't know when to shut up. This is Montreal. We have learned that "security" only makes situations worse and Concordia's guys have already over-reacted several times in the past.

thoughtatworkJuly 13, 2010 5:07 PM

You summed up almost all of my feelings on the original film as well as the remake. I have only seen the original, but felt that the entire "revenge" aspect was only an attempt to self-justify the rapesploitation. I don't think that there is ANY reason to remake this film, at least, if it sticks closely to the source material (like all of the other 70s horror remakes of late). The only value that I could see in the original was that it was pushing boundaries in mainstream film. After a film like Irreversible, is a film about the horrors of rape even relevant anymore? Is that even the point of this film? I would love to see the Q&A and hear what the filmmakers have to say about it.

https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawlMkyASLggt9hZMz-HoneN7BXuQ2OpNpZwJuly 13, 2010 7:32 PM

Great review Todd. As my favourite replacement grandma I totally respect the ethical stance youve taken here. To be honest I only read this review just to find out what my brain was asking me to find out about the latest state of the propaganda machine to get us to accept violence.So yeah will not be watching this film and thanks again for confirming my suspicions of its rape as entertainment or propaganda masked as entertainment agenda. I could never understand video nasties anyway. Good work my man. I mean gran.

ChevalierAguilaJuly 13, 2010 10:30 PM

The problem with a vile badly made movie is when the makers pretend that their movie is some kind of serious commentary about a socio-political event. I disliked stuff like Hostel, Suicide Club adn A L'interiur not just because they are bad movies, which they are, but because they added, or are dealing with, social topics that either deserve better or that they are just using as an excuse to "enhace" their awful product.

Kurt HalfyardJuly 13, 2010 10:55 PM

There is simply a confusion with 'art' and 'craft' here. The I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE remake is high on craft - it is a well made film on a technical level, but it doesn't have a brain in its pretty little head. It's fan service for the Saw-Crowd, and about as transgressive these days as Repo! The Genetic Opera or Shrek 3.

I still think the notariety and anything layered onto the original was a happy accident, because the director seemed more like a shyster than anything else. He was proud of the fact that he took the original back and demanded no cuts from the MPAA only after he tested out the 'cut' version and it failed to make money. A strange statement that - "Down with censorship because it makes my movie commercially unviable!"

Go see LIFE AND DEATH OF A PORNO GANG instead of this slickly polished engine of commerce. The ability of an audience (about age 15 and below age 60) to be offended by this stuff has simply moved way beyond. There is nothing more edgy here than there was in Hostel 2, but at least the Hostel films were funny. ISOYG is merely calculated and calibrated to its fans desires, circa 2009. The video nasties are far less relevant considering what's out and about on the internet these days. We've moved on, but not evolved on some counts!

thirsty&miserableJuly 14, 2010 2:05 PM

"the latest state of the propaganda machine to get us to accept violence"

aha, ha, aha, ahaahahaahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha, oooooohh, no more, please no more, aha, ha, ha oh, that was good. thanks, I really needed a good laugh!

https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawlMkyASLggt9hZMz-HoneN7BXuQ2OpNpZwJuly 16, 2010 10:25 PM

making the miserable laugh is quite a feat so well done

antho42August 19, 2010 11:45 AM

"I have been a vocal supporter of films such as Martyrs, Irreversible and A Serbian Film..."

I thought you hated Martyrs.

Todd BrownAugust 19, 2010 1:57 PM

No idea why you would think that. My review - found here - is glowing and I listed it in my Top Ten of 2008. Can't get much more positive than that ...

JGAugust 20, 2010 2:25 PM

"Though I personally didn't find star Sarah Butler strong enough to really convey the emotion of the pivotal - and lengthy - rape sequence despite a very brave performance..."

Uh, Mr. Brown, what makes you an expert on the emotional response of a woman being raped and how it should be portrayed? Her portrayal of that scene may very well be overwhelming for women while you found it weak.

Todd BrownAugust 20, 2010 10:27 PM

Let me put it another, more direct, way. I don't think she's a good enough actor for this film, period. She was bland and flat before the rape, she was bland and flat during the rape, she was bland and flat while seeking vengeance after the rape. While I do think she was quite brave to do a lot of what she did I never, at any point, felt any sort of emotional connection with her or her character.

sitenoiseAugust 21, 2010 1:50 PM

why are there comments for this in "Recent Comments" that aren't showing up here?

sitenoiseAugust 21, 2010 2:07 PM

ok. working now. nevermind

Todd BrownAugust 21, 2010 5:17 PM

We were doing some behind the scenes rebuilding. If you saw any recent error messages while commenting, the rebuild was the cause of that, too ...