Can a violent movie that preaches against violence have its cake and eat it too?
I Spit on Your Grave is a frustrating film.
As a fan of bloody, nerve-wrenching horror, I could appreciate all of the terror inflicted within the film. There is some really brutal stuff going on in the movie and, as somebody who understands that movies are not real and are meant to entertain or enlighten, I could appreciate the efforts director Steven Monroe went towards making me squirm in my seat.
On the other hand, I couldn’t help but sense that the movie, with its extreme diametric tonal approaches, was pandering to the same crowd it preached against. It wanted to have its cake and eat it too.
I Spit on Your Grave stars Sarah Butler as Jennifer, a young, attractive woman who decides to retreat from civilization into a cabin out in the woods. She’s working on a novel and could use the peace and quiet. It’s never established how good of a writer Jennifer is but I imagine her as being a tween romance novelist — somebody akin to Stephenie Meyer. You see, Jennifer is not the sharpest tool in the box. She’s naive, overly trusting and prone to walking out into the dark isolated woods alone without arming herself with a weapon. It’s these traits that put Jennifer in a position to be brutally violated and abused by a group of backwoods, misogynistic rapists.
The group of men takes turns shattering Jennifer’s mind, body and soul — leaving her a broken husk of a woman. Just as they’re about to shoot her — putting her out of her misery — she manages to escape into the murky depths of a nearby river. Instead of drowning, though, Jennifer returns to systematically capture and torture the group of men who hurt her beyond belief.
The violence she inflicts upon the men is beyond disturbing and almost poetic in its justice. I’m talking about torture that utilizes everything from lye to fishing hooks to an entirely new definition of the term “shotgun wedding.”
I Spit on Your Grave, a remake of the 1978 film of the same name, takes the slasher film formula and twists it on its head. While most modern horror film audiences have taken to rooting for the monster — cheering happily as Freddy Krueger or Jason Vorhees slices and dices his way through children, I Spit on Your Grave actually gives audiences a monster they don’t have to feel guilty about rooting for As Jennifer enacts her bloody revenge on her torturers, she does so with justice on her side. The men she bounds and mutilates are all criminals and rapists. They did not offer pity to Jennifer so why should she listen to their screams as she cuts into their flesh?
At the same time, I couldn’t help but notice the weird parallel between the audience and the character Stanley, a hillbilly played by Daniel Franzese who enjoys videotaping the rape and torture of Jennifer for future enjoyment. While the tortures inflicted upon the rapists by Jennifer in the second half of the film seem to be in the same tongue-in-cheek merry violence tone of the Final Destination films, they are still extremely violent and the filmmakers seemingly expected audiences to react to them with a gleeful embrace. More violent, though, are the multiple rape scenes in the first half of the film — shot with a detached, mostly off-camera approach that, nevertheless, did not shy away from the brutal reality of the situation.
Stanley, a character who obviously gets some type of sexual satisfaction from violence, is shown as somebody to be pitied and eventually killed. What, then, does that say about the audience I Spit on Your Grave seems to be pandering towards with its ostentatious yet creative violence?
I Spit on Your Grave is a film that will be remembered far more for its kill scenes than any other aspect of its totality. It’s a film that’s made for one purpose only — to elicit shock and surprise from its audience. In that manner, the film succeeds wildly. The movie is a nicely stylized revenge thriller that doesn’t shy away from violence. As a story worth telling, though, it falls a bit short. I wish the movie had aspired to be more than just throwing some violence on the screen and seeing what stuck. The filmmakers assembled a relatively talented cast and had a decent crew who shot a nice-looking film. It would have been nice to have had some substance to make it all worth it.
Director: Steven R. Monroe Notable Cast: Sarah Butler, Chad Lindberg, Daniel Franzese, Rodney Eastman, Jeff Branson and Andrew Howard Writer: Jeffrey Reddick
Robert Saucedo is an avid movie watcher with seriously poor sleeping habits. The Mikey from Life cereal of film fans, Robert will watch just about anything — good, bad or ugly. He has written about film for newspapers, radio and online for the last 10 years. This has taken a toll on his sanity — of that you can be sure. Follow him on Twitter at @robsaucedo2500.