Fantastic Fest 2010 Review: I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE
Editor's Note: This review was originally published on October 3rd at Fantastic Fest.
Writer: Stuart Morse
Director: Steven R. Monroe
Cast: Sarah Butler, Daniel Franzese, Jeff Branson, Chad Lindberg
I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, a remake of the 1978 film also known as DAY OF THE WOMAN, displays such a complete lack of understanding of exploitation cinema as to become downright nefarious. That is not to overcredit the original, mind you, it is a vile piece of work in and of itself. However, as a product of the time and as a tent pole example of the rape/revenge themed films being fed to moviegoers via grindhouse and drive-in theaters it still holds some value. Whereas the original film had a central character worth rooting for, the 2010 remake does not. This dooms the film from the very beginning.
Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) is a writer who has decided to rent a cabin in the woods in order to achieve the peace and quiet she needs to work on her next novel. Unfortunately for her, several of the locals have their eyes fixed on her as soon as she arrives in town. One night, the gang of men, led by Johnny (Jeff Branson), break into Jennifer's home. At first they just intend to scare her but things quickly spiral out of control and before long they are forcing a mentally-challenged young man named Matthew (Chad Lindberg) to rape her. After several false escapes between multiple beatings and rapes, Jennifer finally manages to get away but returns some time later to enact her revenge.
The single weakest link in I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, the one element that, if done correctly, could have made this the true modern exploitation film the filmmakers were going for is the character of Jennifer. We are introduced to her already in her unfamiliar setting and the very people we see her interacting with are the people that will attack her later. We never get a chance to know Jennifer. She's a writer from the city, we're told, but how out of her element is she really? Without having this grounding, a sense of the person in which we are meant to invest our empathy, there is little character-based impact in the extended rape and beating scenes. The acts are as disgusting, sure, but they hold little meaning as the audience has no connection with the object of that viciousness.
Even worse, the series of opening scenes preceding the attack on Jennifer are mostly centered around her being a klutz. For example, she is sans cellular service only because she drops her phone in the toilet. How then is the viewer to believe that this rather accident-prone writer is capable of the elaborate setups seen in the third act? The other characters, the films "bad guys," are all played well and are appropriately ferocious. However, the film seems to be trying to reach to the viewer to make a moral judgement regarding whether or not Jennifer's revenge is appropriate and justified. It is not a film capable of stirring that pot, though, and the fact that it tries is insulting to the audience. This is especially true with the character of Matthew. Having a mentally-challenged character who is forced to rape our heroine would appear to introduce the moral dilemma the filmmakers wish to leave the audience with. While the way in which Jennifer has her revenge on Matthew is the most clever part of the film, there is no question that it comes off as being played for enjoyment and applause thus completely unraveling the intention of the character in the first place.
As far as technical accomplishments in the film there are few. The photography is bland and washed out, a stylistic choice that only makes everything going on more wretched. As one must assume this was the intention, it is a success. When the final payoffs are reached, the special effects work is admittedly top notch. There will be no spoilers here but the series of acts of revenge are indeed brutal and the effects work appears to be mostly (if not all) practical. Again, though, it comes down to the utter and total detachment with which everything is displayed that prevents these elements that are done well from ever having a chance to save the film.
The I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE remake, as judged on its own, is an almost complete failure. Most of the recent successful exploitation-like films rely on loving homage or have been completely accidental in their aping of exploitation elements. When the goal is to set out to make that sort of film knowingly one must have the understanding of what made those films work in the first place. The creators of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE do not and have made a film that is, to be perfectly honest, garbage.
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