I Spit on Your Grave 2 (2013) d. Monroe, Steven R. (USA)
I was a relatively inexperienced exploitation viewer when I first encountered the original 1978 I Spit on Your Grave. As a result, I couldn’t feel the full impact of the beast since the shoddy camerawork, lackluster performances, and middling makeup effects kept me at a distance. I understood that this was a terrible situation that our main character Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) was in, but the execution of the story itself couldn’t get past the filter of my Hollywood-honed sensibilities. Later, as I consumed more alternative and rough-edged efforts, I revisited the film and was not only more affected, but more impressed by what writer/director Meir Zarchi had been able to capture. Like the child who shies away from the bitterness of coffee yet later grows to appreciate a double expresso, my tastes have either sharpened or dulled (depending on your opinion) to see past the flaws wrought by meager funds and limited experience. I now see I Spit on Your Grave (aka Day of the Woman) as a vital piece of exploitation cinema, a brave, fearless and underrated examination of the reality of rape and the fantasy of revenge.
As with nearly every significant genre title of the 70s and 80s, ISOYG was eventually fitted for the inevitable remake slot in 2010. Expectations could not have been lower, knowing that they couldn’t possibly go “there” in the way that the 1978 original had, and this would either be a watered down version or it would wallow in the unpleasantness of the act a la Irreversible (a brilliant film, but no need for a repeat visit to that well). However, much to my surprise, director Steven R. Monroe and screenwriter Stuart Morse managed to ably straddle the line, pulling off a well-acted, skillfully shot thriller that didn’t pull any punches but also didn’t keep slugging after viewers had gone numb.
There were a few quibbles, such as Morse’s inexplicable decision to make a “mystery” of who was exacting the revenge killings of the rapists, distancing us from Jennifer (now played by Sarah Butler) in so doing, and the extravagance of her Saw-like torture devices that – while appropriately nasty – almost took us out of the film as we thought, “How’d she rig that thing up?” For the most part, though, I was mightily impressed and earmarked Monroe as a director to watch, since it was clear from his C.V. that he was a red-blooded horror guy working his way up the ranks.
This brings us up to speed for my recent viewing of I Spit on Your Grave 2. Expectations were dialed in: I knew this would be another rape/revenge film (by now, I’ve seen a few). I knew that Monroe, also helming the sequel, could deliver the goods with restraint. I knew that the lead, Jemma Dallender, was an actress of substance, having seen her work earlier this year in the bizarre UK hoodie-horror flick, Community. I also knew that the film was already amassing a huge amount of hate and invective for even existing, that “rape is not entertainment.” I hadn’t remembered such an uproar the first time around, except that the Hollywood suits were once again desecrating another “classic,” but it did strike me as odd that they would be either continuing the story or that they would do another rape/revenge scenario under the guise of a sequel.
After the first 15 minutes, I started to understand the cause for all the cybernoise. ISOYG2 is an insulting film, to women, to men, and to moviegoers with half a brain. I don’t know who this picture was made for (and it apparently has a few fans already), but I’m decidedly not among them. Even at the most prurient level, this isn’t entertainment. It’s too stupid, too squalid, too sadistic and too ridiculous to even masquerade as a cautionary tale. It’s filled with such unbelievable and unpleasant characters – including the victim herself – such that we connect to no one. Yes, we see our unfortunate aspiring model Katie (Dallender) invaded and tortured and raped, but she’s a plot device rather than a human being. Yes, we see ugly thuggish brutes receiving comeuppance for their transgressions, but it’s all without substance. Yes, as a horror fan, I expect to be delivered the nasty goods, but with a subject as real and topical as rape, I expect it to be handled with more intelligence and sensitivity than a simple decapitation or Achilles tendon slice.
I could detail the various off-putting logistical elements (this wafer-thin waif is supposed to be a Missouri farm girl, the Eurothug rapists are straight out of Central Casting, the character posing as Katie’s advocate is clearly in on the scheme, Katie’s revenge schemes are shockingly improbably considering her surroundings – where is she getting the equipment, drugs, etc.) that Monroe and screenwriters Thomas Fenton and Neil Elman employ, but I’ve already wasted more time than the film deserves. The sexual torture sequences are in the worst possible taste, only topped by Katie’s transformation into a one-liner spouting harpy doling out perfunctory acts of vengeance. There is one nice story twist/reveal about 30 minutes in that I appreciated, one that I’ll preserve (even though many of my peers have already revealed it in their reviews) as it’s about the only redeeming feature of the 106-minute ordeal. Let’s hope someone appropriates it for a more deserving film someday.
The Anchor Bay DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack doesn’t bring much to the table in the way of extras, with only a few deleted scenes provided for supplementary materials. And whoever designed that “girl power” cover art deserves a swift kick in the cookies. Blech.
I Spit on Your Grave is available now for purchase from Anchor Bay Entertainment.