I Spit On Your Grave (2010)Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/25/10 14:39:42
(Worth A Look)
SCREENED AT THE 2010 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I can't comment on the original version of this movie (which was properly titled "Day of the Woman"), as I haven't seen it; if this new version is toned down, as many horror remakes tend to be, I think I would rather not. This one is rough and brutal, to the point where Anchor Bay feels that it can't be cut down to an R rating for its planned October theatrical release, and they're probably right about that. The filmmakers are right not to pull their punches, although this version may not be quite so bitter a pill as they'd hoped and planned.Jennifer (Sarah Butler), a young writer, has rented a small cabin on a lake in Louisiana, where she hopes to work on a novel in peace. Anything resembling that peace will be shattered after a few nights, when some of the local boys - Johnny (Jeff Branson) from the gas station, his buddy Andy (Rodney Eastman), camcorder-toting Stanley (Daniel Franzese), and slow handyman Matthew (Chad Lindberg) - fueled by liquor and perceived slights, knock down her door and attack her. She runs, finding the Sheriff (Andrew Howard) hunting in the woods, only to have him join in. They chase her into the woods; cornered, she drops from a bridge into a river. The rapists figure their tracks should now be easy to cover, especially once they find the body. But...
About half of the movie is quite excellenly made, if unpleasant. It takes some time to set the stage; director Steven R. Monroe at times risks boring the audience with details of ordinary life whose secondary purposes are a little too clear (Jennifer's workout clothes which shouldn't be seen as a provocation; the abandoned shed, etc.). It's supposed to numb the audience, though, so that when Johnny and company arrive at Jennifer's cabin, the audience is that much more ready to be jolted. And the rape scene is absolutely horrific; even though most of the audience is probably well aware of what they bought a ticket for, they're really not. It's violent and frightening and just will not cut away until the audience really understands that the oft-repeated axiom that rape is not about sex but power is dead on.
The cast acts the hell out of it, although the most impressive scene here may not be the crime itself, but the one leading up to it. Jeff Branson in particular does a great job of moving his character from kind of unpleasant to monstrous without a seam; even though there is a clear inciting point, it's a smooth transition. The same goes for the rest of the group; they make the attack feel like a feeding frenzy, their characters unable to resist the smell of blood in the water, but not because a switch has been flipped or a veil cast aside; these men have pushed each other past the level of what society allows as we watched. It contrasts very well with what Sarah Butler does, going from certain and falsely confident to helpless.
And then we come to the movie's second half, where it sometimes feels like Monroe and screenwriter Stuart Morse are trying to play both sides of the street. It's structured in a way that feels familiar, with gory and fitting punishments being doled out, but with the rush of satisfaction we usually get from a revenge thriller drained out of them. Which, I believe, is part of the point - Monroe and writer Stuart Morse are looking to deconstruct and deglamorize both rape and revenge fantasies. It's a fine line to walk, and I don't know if they always manage it - some bits are so elaborate and cartoonishly suited to their targets as to run counter to the brutal realism, and we don't quite get into Jennifer's head enough to see why she would take this route. And that's really too bad, because the best moments in this section - the ones where there is not just real suspense but where Butler potentially has a chance to do something special - are the ones where we're directly confronting the question of just how far gone and messed up she is. Those moments should be what everything else is leading to, but instead, the film cuts to another gruesome horror set-up.And those set-ups often work; many will watch them and feel that Monroe has taken scenes that might play for cheers and even laughs in other movies and made them uncomfortable again. It won't work that way for everybody; some will find no difference between this "I Spit on Your Grave" and the exploitation films it means to invert. A little more emphasis on what's going through the character's head as opposed to just what she's doing could have made a world of difference.
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