Monday, January 12, 2015

I Spit On Your Grave (2010)

As a genre fan, I usually ignore it when "normal" people address a brutal horror movie with the question "why would anyone watch this?" But with I Spit On Your Grave, it's actually a legitimate question. I watched the original version from 1978 several years ago, probably inspired by its salacious reputation, and my interest in the inverted morals of the exploitation genre (gratuitous sex and violence for their own sake, without needing to be "justified" by serving a legitimate plot!). Ever since I heard about the remake, it was inevitable that I would someday watch it, as I was curious to see how such a uniquely controversial exploitation flick from the seventies would be resurrected in the twenty-first century.

And the verdict? I think the original movie was more enjoyable. The remake seems to emphasize the "we're being brutal to serve a purpose" angle over the exploitation ethos. It's also more violent and less sexual. You could easily argue that this is a good thing, since it serves the "feminist" purpose of being a woman's rape-revenge fantasy (although it will still appeal more to those who enjoy graphic violence and brutality, regardless of the sexual politics at play). And the remake is certainly more effective at this than the original movie was, given that the revenge part is far more driven by violence (actually involving some pretty clever tortures), and less reliant on the almost coy and thus very out of place sexuality of the ravaged victim that the original movie took shameless advantage of in the second half.

But as pure entertainment, I just didn't enjoy it as much. A lot of this was due to a combination of poor writing that relies too much on tired horror cliches (I mean, is it even a spoiler if I tell you the sheriff is in on it?) that inspire more eye-rolling than dramatic tension, in lieu of actual character development and believable plot elements that would tell a more interesting, more mature, and more engrossing story. Also, I found the actors to be very unconvincing, including the lead. They were certainly capable of emoting, but, even in spite of the brutal subject nature of the film, it often felt overwrought and made it very difficult for me to get into the story and the characters' struggles. Emoting is undoubtedly an important skill for an actor, but most important is the ability to make the audience believe the character the actor is inhabiting.

Which is not to say that the original I Spit On Your Grave was a cinematic masterpiece (that's not the reason people still remember it), but it felt more like an exploitation flick, and you had lowered expectations for plot and acting as a result. The modern I Spit On Your Grave really seems to be trying to take itself seriously (at least as a genre film), and so the flaws in the writing and the acting tend to stand out more. I mean, the characters really did not seem believable to me. I know they're supposed to be despicable, but you can make despicable characters that seem like real people. After all, there are people in real life who are despicable. Even the heroine, though, did not put up enough of a fight before she resorted to sniveling tears. I mean, I'm not trying to criticize her for being scared and defenseless, it's just that it felt like she was following a script ("ok, you're the helpless victim, go!") more than occupying the head space of a real person.

Getting back to the question of why anyone would watch this... I wouldn't recommend it for entertainment purposes alone. That probably wasn't the film's intended goal anyway, but I still think they could have done better on that count. As far as it being a grueling experience you could challenge yourself to sit through, it works on that level, although there are better movies out there that are even more grueling that you could challenge yourself to face. As far as it being a feminist's wet dream, I'm sure there are those who would award it value on that count. Personally, I don't think it serves a particularly constructive purpose, however, as neither the villains nor the heroine are realistic enough to make any kind of meaningful commentary on real life. And it really doesn't portray either men or women in the best light.

I don't think it has much therapeutic potential, either, aside from pure, bloody catharsis. But if you're angry about rape, how healthy is it to revel in the sexual depravity of a group of (fictional) lowlife males, and then the graphic violence they're subjected to in revenge? It can't possibly do much for sexual diplomacy. I'm more fond of those movies that more responsibly emphasize how revenge, for better or worse, destroys a person's humanity. Which, if I think about it, is a world away from the glorified sex and violence of the typical exploitation formula. But I don't think that's what this remake was going for. It doesn't feel "deliciously depraved" so much as simply disgusting. Though to some people, that may actually be a good thing.

1 comment:

  1. Probably more due to the stark 70s style (which is so much more realistic than slick modern movies), but I found the original film so much harder to watch than this. Also probably due to the inherent politics as you've described. When I watched the remake I recall myself thinking that I was more impressed with the original, even if I enjoyed the remake more. The original was... ugh, hard to watch. This one was too but it inverted the content, less brutal rape, more brutal revenge. Which works for me.