I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (2010)

 

Director: Steven R. Monroe

Writer: Stuart Morse

Cast: Sarah Butler, Jeff Branson, Rodney Eastman

Release Date: 11/8/2010

“I Spit On Your Grave” is a seminal horror picture from the 1970’s that gained it’s power from the nasty, slipshod craft that laid the story elements bare: one woman, several men, and the mutual abuse of both. It is crude and somewhat shameful chapter in the evolution of the horror film, but as a historical document, it’s one of the very upsetting depictions of rape on film, unflinching where other films compromised to directorial cleverness or ratings pressure. Because of it’s disgusting exploitation of the act, seemingly never in service of the male gaze, the Meir Zarchi thriller has earned serious respect among cinephiles as the rare film that deigns to genuinely upset a thrill-seeking audience member, and it’s transgress power still exists today.

Remaking it seems ultimately foolhardy, since it’s only a marginally well-known title, and because there’s not much you can digress from the original story. A wildly-recontextualized “I Spit On Your Grave” would be most interesting, but there’s only so much you can alter the subject material until it becomes “Straw Dogs” – not better, necessarily, but not “I Spit On Your Grave.” Nevertheless, people with deep pockets and no imagination have stepped up to the cause, creating a new millennium take on a twisted cultural artifact.

The plot hews close to the original, featuring budding novelist Jennifer Hills visiting a small backwoods cabin to finish her latest opus. Her model-ready looks catch the attention of the local gas station attendants, simpleton reprobates that latch on to the promise of sexually exploiting an uppity city girl for kicks. Once they arrive at her secluded cabin, they beat and ravage her in equal doses, a torture that lasts a significant amount of time in this far-too-long movie.

The twist to this remake this time must be that these thugs chose Lady MacGyver to rape and torture. After escaping near-certain death in a theatrical manner, she reemerges with unexplained resources, and sets up an endless series of elaborate, improbable death traps that only a diseased mind could conjure. The original seems to queasily explain that while these boys were mentally-poisoned individuals, their victim seems to have an unhealthy, sadistic bloodlust in her as well, creating an ugly circle of violence that robs the original picture of the naked thrill of revenge. In the remake, these thugs are thoroughly topped by a city girl who must have both “Actual Maniac Killer” and “Fan Of The ’Saw’ Films” in her DNA.

The rapist villains of the first film were completely deplorable characters, but they were cast with an eye towards realism. Not only did these guys look like backwoods troublemakers, but the characters themselves seemed to have actual lives beyond the film. They seemed like real people, which made it horrifying that they allowed their darkest demons to take them over, the film drawing the uneasy conclusion that such behavior lied at the heart of the average man. The remake populates its cast of rapists with quasi-handsome central casting types, none of which appear to have spent more than an hour in a swamp, and none of which have a discussion that‘s about anything other than being this film‘s boogeymen. The slapstick retard of the original, a concession to unenlightened times, has been re-imagined as a handsome young boy with severe Tourette’s, as if the film was pretending to show an accurate example of a mental defect in the middle of suffocating inauthenticity

Then again, it’s genuinely unfair to judge a film by the work it’s remade or derived from, especially because most of the audience for this remake will be largely unfamiliar with the source. The problem is that as a modern horror-thriller, “I Spit On Your Grave” brings so little to the table. Films of 1970’s, particularly cheap grind house lures like the original “Grave,” earned their appeal because they were being churned out by people who didn’t watch a lot of films. They were ungainly, disjointed, with no attention paid to the rhythms of filmmaking and editing, and so each film had its own distinct vibe. This new remake only shows that director Stephen R. Munroe has seen the original film, but he’s also seen hundreds of other slashers and boogeyman pictures, and so his well of inspiration is a lot less fresh. The film is scored portentously with loud stings on the soundtrack during jump scares, and the picture generally moves along like most thrillers in the modern day, which is to say it feels entirely like a trailer, pitched at a high note, gliding along from scare to scare.

The new “I Spit On Your Grave” doesn’t even have the dignity to avoid borrowing from other remakes of culturally significant horror pictures. The film’s biggest departure is the involvement of a sadistic sheriff, a straight lift from Marcus Nispel’s asinine “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” redo. In this film, the sheriff even has a happy family life and appears to be well-adjusted, but he merely joins in the gangbang for pleasure even though he appears to be the most equipped and self-aware of the baddies. He’s Red State Justice, an ugly designation that allows the condescending filmmakers to bring Jennifer’s bloody retribution to his innocent family’s doorstep in a hopeless stab at relevance. If it isn’t a stab at finally making this ugly, unnecessary picture relevant, “I Spit On Your Grave” is an even bigger failure.

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