There are some films that are not easy to watch. Most of the time films in that category are simply poorly made with little story or unconvincing performances. However, sometimes, if the film deals with a controversial subject then it may be hard to watch for the opposite reason, the story seams too real, the performances too convincing. I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, the 2010 remake of the controversial 1978 grind house classic, is a case in point.
The story, at least on the surface, is a simple one. Novelist Jennifer Hill (Sarah Butler) comes to a small town in rural Louisiana to spend a few months in quiet seclusion working on her next novel. Jennifer has rented a remote cabin far off the beaten track in the town. When she gets lost on her first drive to her ‘retreat’ she stops for gas and asks directions. The attendant at the filling station is Johnny (Jeff Branson), the alpha male of a group of locals and when Jennifer rebuffs his sexual advances and then accidently humiliates him in front of his friends, she unknowing sets in motion events that will forever change her life.
During her first few days in the cabin Jennifer finds it to be the ideal place to write and relax. But, she doesn’t know that one of Johnny’s friends, Stanley (Daniel Franzese), has been secretly stalking her and taking video of her undressing. Later, a mentally challenged handy man, Matthew (Chad Lindberg), comes to fix the young woman’s toilet when it backs up. She’s so excited by Matthew getting her water restored that she gives him a friendly peck of a kiss. Unfortunately for Jennifer, Matthew also hangs around with Johnny and his timing for telling his friends what happened couldn’t be worse. Between watching Stanley’s videos, a good deal of drinking and then hearing about her actions with Matthew, Johnny decides it’s time to teach the city girl “a lesson”.
–NOTE SPOILERS, skip to the last paragraph to avoid them–
The three of them and another friend, Andy (Rodney Eastman) head out to her cabin and capture her there. Johnny, Andy and Stanley all take turns humiliating the young woman and dehumanizing her. Matthew is reluctant because he truly seems to like her, but he is not strong willed enough to voice decent or to try and stop his friends. Jennifer, despite being out numbered and at a severe physical disadvantage, doesn’t give up and she manages to escape the four men and flee into the woods. There she runs into Sheriff Storch (Andrew Howard) and she thinks she’s safe. He takes her back to her cabin to investigate the crime, only he turns on her as well and helps Johnny and his friends force themselves on her in a most brutal way.
Even though each man takes a turn assaulting and dehumanizing Jennifer, she doesn’t give up struggling. When the assault is finally over, she understands that they will kill her to protect themselves and so she forces herself to flee once more when they have finished. She walks slowly to the center of a bridge and before they can shoot her she plunges into the rushing waters below. The Sheriff knows that now they have a problem and he instructs the others in how to cover their tracks. They burn all of Jennifer’s possessions. Totally disassemble her car and eliminate all evidence that they had been involved with her. This destruction of Jennifer’s possessions symbolizes the complete elimination of the young woman who came to their small town. The group also spends days searching for her body, but they cannot find it.
After more than a month with no sign of her, the group has all gone back to their normal lives. Only Jennifer is not dead and gone. She’s very much alive and has been spending her time recovering and planning for her revenge. Jennifer’s acts of vengeance are creative and uniquely suited to each of the men who assaulted her. While the viewer is supposed to feel some satisfaction at seeing the group get what’s coming to them, Jennifer, the level of torture that Jennifer visits upon them is enough to actually create some feelings of sympathy for them and it also shows how far they have destroyed what Jennifer was forever making all of the acts underlined with the thought that no matter what, she will never be the same again.
I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE is a violent film that brutally depicts the humiliation, rape and physical abuse of a young woman. This alone is enough to ensure that the film’s acceptance in the popular culture will be limited. The subsequent turn of events that leads the film from “rape” to “revenge” creates even more controversial subject matter as Jennifer’s revenge involves more than just killing her attackers, it involves torture and humiliation for them as well. It would be easy enough to dismiss the film because of the violence and brutality it depicts, but at the same time those elements, coupled with the all too realistic characters are what makes the film worth watching.
Of course there will be the inevitable comparisons not only between this film and the original, but also between this film and other more recent ones that depict brutality and torture. HOSTEL for one comes to mind and thinking about the similarities of the two films actually highlights the differences and why the torture depicted in one is so different from the other. In HOSTEL the violence that was shown in graphic detail was almost all done by strangers against characters the audience had been developing empathy with. The acts were also done for no other reason than for the twisted amusement of the torturers. In I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE the brutality and dehumanization of Jennifer serve to build understanding and empathy with the viewer for the acts which she will later visit upon her attackers in revenge. While the shock value for these actions is undeniable, the violence in I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE seems more, if not acceptable, then at least understandable than the acts seen in films like HOSTEL.
If a viewer can stomach the film’s violent content then I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE is worth watching for the characters more than anything else. Sarah Butler gives an amazing performance as the victim turned killer, Jennifer Hill. Although her character physically survives the rape and assault, it is clear that the Jennifer who came to that small cabin in the woods dies there and the person that comes out of the water was someone else, someone dark and as brutal as her attackers. Butler’s ability to take her character through such a dramatic change is phenomenal. It is further worth noting that with the exception of the jump into the river (which the production’s insurance would not allowed to be performed by anyone other than a professional) this young actress performed all of her own stunts in the movie. Chad Lindberg, also deserves a mention for his performance as Matthew, the mentally challenged young man who comes the closest to being a sympathetic character among her attackers. The talented acting of these two and the rest of the cast, coupled with director Stephen R. Monroe’s eye for what should be shown and what could be implied, create the necessary atmosphere to make the film more than just an exercise in violence as so many “rape/revenge” stories are. I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (2010) is a film that should be strongly considered before it is watched. This film will disturb those who view it, but those who do will find it to be more than they expected.