The original 1978 film, depending on the film critic, is either an exploitation film or a feminist film. Jenny Hill, the smart, educated writer from the city rents a cabin out in the middle of the woods and is brutalized and horrendously raped by a bunch of rednecks, manages to escape, and then gets revenge on each of them by physically torturing and then killing them. So, this film is either a series of shocking brutality for brutality’s sake, or the story of a woman getting revenge on the male element that attacks her. Why can’t it be both? The 2010 remake is a faithful retelling, but with more inventive ways to murder people. After all, special effects has improved, making torture more visually realistic.
Both films are about 90 minutes long, and the first 20 minutes is a setup of the movie (Jennifer arrives at the cabin, admires the idyllic setting), the next 40 minutes is the brutal rape and torture of Jennifer, and the last 40 minutes is Jennifer’s violent revenge on her rapists. It’s probably one of the simplest plots anyone has ever had to follow.
The remake includes some of the horrific torture scenes from the original, but only “better.” One man is tied up and castrated, and has his penis shoved in his mouth, one rapist is tied to his tree with his eyelids held open while ravens peck out his eyes, a man precariously balanced over a bathtub of lye, forcing him to fall in and drown/dissolve. Finally, the final setup is like a sadistic Rube Goldberg machine- Jennifer rapes him anally with his shotgun, which is then rigged to shoot the sheriff up the ass when the other unconscious rapist wakes up and moves his hand, which he does. It’s actually kind of clever. Kudos for the creativity.
In both the original and the remake, the camera lingers on Jennifer’s naked body after her rape, which is sure to titulate the audience. Who is this movie for? People that are turned on by the brutal rape of a woman? People who want to see her get revenge? Furthermore, the poster for both films features a shot of Jennifer from behind, her clothes torn and tattered, wielding an axe, with a focus on her near-naked buttocks. If that isn’t using sex to sell this film, I don’t know what is. And it’s pretty damn problematic.
Even if you consider Jennifer’s revenge empowering, the fact of the matter is that the audience has been subjected to about 40 minutes of her rape and torture, so really, no one wins here. Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying that rape should never be depicted in films. There are times when they tell part of a larger story and set the mood in the film (The Accused and Boys Don’t Cry come to mind) but this feels just purely exploitative. I can’t imagine any other reason for the film to show this rape scene than some other kind of sick curiosity and unfortunate sexual pleasure of the viewer. They can vicariously see the rape of a woman without actually having to do it. Did we need that whole scene to feel bad for Jennifer? For most audiences, even the suggestion that she was raped by these men would get us on board with her plight, I assure you.
As much as Jennifer’s rape is brutal to watch, her revenge on the rapists brings no closure, and in fact, makes her character more of a victim. Let me be clear, I am not one to dictate how a rape victim should react or respond, but the fact that she concocts these elaborate torture devices makes her a complete calculated sadist. Sure, who is to say that the actual rape made her into one; if that is the case, we should actually feel even worse for her, not some sort of victory for her revenge. In both films, part of her plan includes pretending to seduce one of the rapists in order to get them in a vulnerable position. This could be seen as Jennifer exploiting the messed up notions of sexuality of the assailants, or it can be seen as Jennifer’s sexuality being the only weapon she has, condemned to the limitations of it.
What, if anything, could make this film better? I’m not even sure there is anything. It’s bleak and not at all suspenseful, and seems to be made for sheer controversy. That lends the other question: what was the intent of the remake? It adds no other level, no new character development other than “worse” torture methods. It reminds me of the Saw film franchise- although the first film was a well-made and affecting horror film, the sequels seemed to exist to “one-up” each other in torture devices.
Victims getting revenge on their captors can be a satisfying story arc, even with lots of gore, but I Spit On Your Grave isn’t that nuanced of a film. It’s made by someone who hates humanity and quite frankly, women. Even though the film does not explicitly convey this, I can’t help but think there are undertones of “victim-blaming” here. Jennifer is smart, single, educated career woman, who has the audacity to spend time in the woods on her own, not to mention having the audacity to tempt the men at the gas station by being a beautiful woman who buffs their advances. So, shouldn’t she “expect” these men to rape her? She should have known better, apparently.
Both the original and the remake are not worth any sort of viewing. The direction, framing, and/or acting is nothing extraordinary, there are no film-making techniques to learn or appreciate. There’s no ironic watching or camp value. It’s literally a waste of a space within cinema history.