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February 8, 2011

I Spit on Your Grave

(2010, Dir. by Steven R. Monroe.)

There's not a lot to like about the 2010 update of I Spit on Your Grave.  The original film was a rape-and-revenge drama that angry crowds thought was unnecessary due to its graphic content, but this one just seems unnecessary because its dull.  Maybe it's a damning statement about our times, but this version of the story keeps the original film's brutality - in fact, it even ups the ante in many regards - while seeming diluted and lifeless.

Like the original, the story begins with a young woman going away to a cabin in the woods, making all sorts of redneck men uncomfortable along the way.  Like most country boys, these fellas feel they have to show their manliness and, since their facial hair wasn't intimidating on its own, they start to play a little game with our female character. 

I wanted to call Sarah Butler's character a heroine at the end of that last paragraph, but it's hard to really put a label on this type of character.  As a male, I'm accustomed to vengeful characters whose actions seem noble and justified, like Charles Bronson in Death Wish or The Princess Bride's Inigo Montoya, for example.  But both versions of I Spit on Your Grave - and, in a roundabout way, The Last House on the Left and its remake - take their quest for revenge in such a brutal direction. 

The question that all revenge thrillers want us to think about is "How far would YOU go?", but there's a difference between the likes of Death Wish and the likes of I Spit on Your Grave that can not be understated.  While Chuck Bronson is out getting revenge for what he witnessed, it's easy for a viewer - particularly a male viewer - to get pumped up and think about how fair this journey is.  But in the case of I Spit on Your Grave, the character played first by Camille Keaton and now by Ms. Butler is DIRECTLY the victim of a heinous act.  It's a whole different ball game, and quite frankly I struggle with films that take this route. 

The actions taken by Butler's Jennifer are elaborate and well-planned, yet nonsensically brutal.  I understand that the young woman has been violated in a manner that most find unthinkable, and I have no doubt that a desire to gain retribution would eat away at someone who suffered such a violent trauma.  But the actions she takes, which require calculated planning and a boatload of supplies, let the viewer know that she's taken a lot of time to rationally (or, at least as rationally as is possible) put her plan into action.  Am I to believe that this young woman, who is incredibly brutal at times and puts on an innocent smile at other moments, is really justified?  That she has the self-control to make these perfectly vicious plans AND has the primal rage to carry them out?  I don't know if I'm necessarily buying that.

None of that philosophical banter about revenge flicks can save the movie itself, which is drab as they come.  The entire film seems to have been whitewashed to remove colors, a palette that matches Ms. Butler's performance.  The young actress (who turns 26 on Friday) growls her way through the flick, rarely exuding anything that resembles Ms. Keaton's performance in the original film, which gave the character even more of a dual nature as a charmer/killer.  Keaton's ability to offer a come hither smile just before a vengeful act was one of the key selling points of that film - even if it did still make me struggle with my revenge/planning hang up - and there's a sort of charm that came from it that kept the viewer invested in the film, which also offered plenty of bright daylight scenes.

As Jennifer exacts her revenge on these men, there are shocks and there are moments that will make viewers of any gender cringe.  Yet the increased amount of violence and the dull visuals seemed to lessen my interest in every scene.  While both versions of I Spit on Your Grave give a viewer plenty to think about when it comes to the nature of revenge, I can't imagine I'd ever chose to revisit the 2010 version with the original offering the same mental conundrum and a more interesting presentation.  And with that version being re-released alongside this one, I don't know why I'd suggest the remake to anyone who hasn't seen the first film unless they really like brutality.  The fact that this remake is both more violent and more palpable than its predecessor speaks volumes about where the remake culture has taken horror cinema.


Anonymous said...

I'm not too keen on seeing this one but I'll get around to it at some point. Aside from the remake factor, what's mentioned in other reviews and I think you allude to, is the fact that the men in the film don't look all that scary or menacing. Like they took some daytime soap opera stars and asked them to grow out their stubble. It removes the 'Oh man that guy is TRULY a bad guy' factor and there is simply no real perceived threat.

Aside from that, you also make another great point. Why would she come up with Wile E. Coyote styled contraptions and not just go the more direct route? This cartoonish aspect, I would imagine, is enough to take you out of the film and therefore lack any justification for our victim's onscreen actions.

Sammy V said...

I was on the fence with this one, glad I read your review...I think I'll skip out on I Spit On Your Grave. Thanks!

R.D. Penning said...

I haven't seen either of them