Thursday, February 17, 2011

Review: I Spit On Your Grave (2010)

After being severely disappointed in the Last House On The Left remake, I didn’t have very high expectations for the remake of the other classic stalwart of the rape/revenge subgenre, I Spit On Your Grave. I was pleasantly surprised. While some of the raw ferocity of the original is lost due to the glossy, stylized nature of the remake, it is nevertheless a brutal exercise in vengeance. The story basically remains the same. Jennifer Hills, played by Sarah Butler, is a writer who rents an isolated cabin for a little peace and quiet to work on a novel, but runs afoul of a group of locals who gang rape her. She then exacts a bloody revenge on her attackers. Basically, good clean family fun.

The main difference between the original and this one is the addition of a lot of exposition. It takes much longer for the attack to occur in the remake. The filmmakers tried to flesh out the characters of the rapists much more. They are only semi-successful. Each of Jennifer’s attackers has a distinct personality in the update, however they have little depth and achieve little more than being caricatures. This is not a big issue, however, as these characters really didn’t need to be anything more than reprehensible yokels. Much more time is given this time around to the attempts of the attackers to cover up their crimes. Two characters were added that were not in the original. The man who rents her the cabin seems to only be there to show that at least one resident of the backwoods town isn’t in on the whole thing. The other addition, who adds quite a bit to the story, is the town sheriff. The fact that he ends up being one of the attackers adds a new feeling of hopelessness to Jennifer’s plight. One of the criticisms of the original is that Jennifer didn’t even attempt to go to the authorities. In the remake, she truly has nowhere to turn to for help, since the authorities are part of the attack. He is a truly reprehensible character, as scenes of him with his wife and daughter immediately after the rape emphasize to great effect. But, as the great Joe Bob Briggs would say, that’s just too much plot getting in the way of the story. The real crux of the film is two things, rape and revenge.

As anyone could have predicted, the rape scene itself is not nearly as long or intense as it is in the original. While the scene seemed to be never ending and grueling the first time around, it is greatly truncated this time. In fact, we only actually see two of the five attackers do the dirty deed; we skip right past the other 3 and see only the aftermath. The attackers don’t get right down to business this time either. A lengthy scene where they invade the cabin and psychologically assault, degrade, and humiliate Jennifer is added in place of an extended rape. What actual on screen sexual assault is there, however, is still pretty damn intense and does the trick. While I can see why the filmmakers did this, as audience sensibilities are very different today than in 1978, I think the way the scene was handled lessened the effect. The way the scene is shot subtly changes the feel of the scene from the one in the 1978 version. In the original, the scene is shot in a raw, almost documentary like style, mainly full shots with very few close-ups and minimal editing. This realistic style, coupled with its sheer length, carried an emotional impact, making the audience endure the attack alongside Jennifer. In the new film, it is shot in such a way that the terrific camera work and snappy editing makes it almost too pretty. The filmmakers did too good a job. While the rape was not quite as brutal as it should have been (dear God I hope no one ever decides to take THAT quote out of context), the revenge portion of the flick is where it really delivers.

In the original, Jennifer Hill uses ropes, knives, and even an outboard motor to dispatch those who wronged her. Jennifer 2.0 is a bit more creative than that. Jennifer 2.0 also has obviously watched Saw once or twice. While not setting them up in “traps” per se, her ingenious murder methods definitely show a bit of a Jigsaw influence. And make no mistake; the murders are straight up brutal. I won’t give any of them away…well, maybe one just because I’ve always wanted to type this phrase… SHOTGUN SODOMY! What I dug the most about the murders is that they are infused with irony. The way she kills each man is a direct callback to something he specifically did or said to her during the attack. They also dispensed with the one thing that always kinda stuck in my craw about the ORIGINAL. In that one, Jennifer seduces all of her rapists into leaving themselves vulnerable enough to be killed. Now, I’m all for suspension of disbelief. I’m not one of those people who insist that every aspect of a plot make logical sense. In fact, it seems to me that mindset would more or less preclude one from being a horror fan in the first place. Asking me to believe that these guys who just gang raped this woman really believe that she’s willingly coming back for round two is pushing it though. Over the years many critics have written that they found that aspect of the film to be highly offensive. I just find it dumb. That being said, the remake does unrealistically show Jennifer doing things a 100 pound woman wouldn’t have the strength to do, but that’s just nitpicking. There is no seduction going on in the remake. When Jennifer 2.0 comes back she is a hardcore sadistic killing machine screaming for vengeance. This is where Sarah Butler’s performance goes from good to great. Camille Keaton may have had more intensity during the rape scenes, but when Sarah starts giving the boys their comeuppance she more than makes up for it.

When I first heard that this movie was being remade, I thought there was no way it could be done well. I generally hate remakes. I want to see some original ideas. You can argue the merits of remakes forever, but eventually you have to judge these movies not by how they stack up against the original, but by the criteria all movies should be judged by: is it good? In this case, the answer is yes. This movie is good enough to stand on its own. They did stay pretty faithful to the plot of the original. They also added some nice references for the fans like the harmonica, certain choice lines of dialog, and the poster itself. I believe, however, that if I had never seen the original classic, I would not have enjoyed this movie any more or less. And that, my friends, is the mark of a good remake. I Spit On Your Grave 2010 is a sick, violent good time. Two severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.


TinaRoxx said...

I agree completely. This is the only remake in recent history that something hasn't just jumped out at me to be pissed off about.

Anonymous said...

there were things i liked better about the original, but there were things i like better about the remake. i think it's one of the better remakes to have come out in the last couple years.

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