I hadn't seen the 1978 "video nasty" of which 2010's I Spit On Your Grave is a remake prior to viewing this year's version. I considered seeing the original first, but it was my understanding that it is a film more infamous than beloved, and I presumed both versions would follow a similar recipe: rape and revenge and little else.
Young writer Jennifer Mills (Sarah Butler) retires to a mountain cabin to relax and work on her second novel. Mountain cabins are great places to spook yourself out, with any little noise as easily explained as being a critter as a boogeyman. But boogeymen is what Jennifer gets, in the form of four local men, one of whom Jennifer unknowingly emasculated at the gas station on her way into town. And thus begins the stalking, raping and revenge, in that order; more detail would be either a spoiler or redundant, depending on your reasons for watching.
I returned home after the screening and flipped through the DVD of the original film, initially titled Day Of The Woman, to see how similar the two versions were, and the biggest difference was undoubtedly the look of each film. While the original made waves for its graphic sexual violence, it was fully apparent from the get-go that the film was uninterested in depicting much else. Forget the director's suggestion of "rape victim wish-fulfillment," Day Of The Woman was exploitation, plain and simple, and the low-budget, amateur-hour, gritty look of the film only added to its horror. It may not be fun to watch, but its intentions are distinct.
By contrast, although this year's version has a similar story, it also has that new-horror-cinema sheen and shine, which confuses audience expectation a bit. In taking something that looked like it could have been shot down the street, and giving it recognizable actors, high production values and impeccable direction, the line between rape as horrific plot device and rape as entertainment begins to get a little blurry. While there's no evidence that director Steven R. Monroe had higher aspirations than recreating the original film's combination of rape and revenge, I had kind of hoped that a real emotion might sneak its way into the film, if justified solely by the experience of filming something so harrowing. No dice.
Then there's the second half of the film. If you're on the hunt for memorable death scenes. I Spit On Your Grave contains a few that will top the creativity category at the end of the fiscal year. The lengths that Jennifer goes to in murdering her rapists aren't just brutal, but so complex and over-the-top that you can't help but laugh. I suppose the chuckle is supposed to be cathartic, but these kills are more extravagant than I imagine any killer would care to be, if they weren't self-consciously in a horror film.
As with the original, some people will really dislike this film and it's hard to blame them. Even removed from the source material, it's difficult to argue that I Spit On Your Grave seeks anything other than to push boundaries. Surely, there are people who enjoy blatant brutality, and usually I think that there is something to be gained by confronting horrible acts of violence from the safe distance that cinema affords. But so much of this particular film seems to be the rape, rather than revenge, that I'm reminded of the dilemma Roger Ebert found himself in with his review of The Last House On The Left remake: how do you rate a rape? I like to think of myself as a horror connoisseur, and I've seen plenty of rape scenes in this genre. Some affected me and many did not. But the rape that makes up most of I Spit On Your Grave has the distinction of being the first that I wanted to end simply out of a lack of interest.
[Cross-posted at Ornery-Cosby.com. Hell of a movie to mark my inaugural home-team post, but hi and thanks for havin' me.]