Written by: Christopher O’Neill on February 1st, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: USA, October 8th, 2010
Director: Steven R. Monroe
Writer: Stuart Morse
Cast: Sarah Butler, Rodney Eastman, Jeff Branson, Andrew Howard, Tracey Walter
DVD released: February 7th, 2011
Approximate running time: 103 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35.1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: 5.1 Surround Sound / 2.0 Dolby Stereo
DVD Release: Anchor Bay Entertainment UK
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £15.99
Young author Jennifer Hills rents a cabin in a remote part of Louisiana to begin work on her next novel. On route she pulls into a gas station where attendant Johnny makes a move on her but she rebuffs his crass advances, much to his embarrassment and the amusement of his cackling buddies. As Jennifer basks in her seclusion tension mounts as Johnny dwells on the rejection and, encouraged by his gang, decides to act upon it. After voyeuristically prying on and videotaping her from a distance, one night they break into the cabin and subject Jennifer to a viciously prolonged ordeal of sexual abuse and humiliation. Finished with their victim the group prepare to murder her in order to cover up their crimes only for Jennifer to disappear into a nearby river. Believing that she is dead the men destroy all of her possessions, claim that she left the cabin without notice, and each go back to their daily lives while systematically venturing into the woods to try and find her body. But what they do not realize is Jennifer has survived and is about to extract revenge on all of them that will prove to even more harrowing than anything they forced upon her.
As a straight-forward horror film the remake of I Spit On Your Grave is a considerable improvement over its 1978 predecessor which, in comparison, is a sloppily-executed example of exploitation cinema that nonetheless possesses an uncompromising energy that continues to spark debate in the three decades since its completion. Both films follow the same basic narrative structure: the first half of the film portrays the unflinching torment of a woman perpetrated by a group of lowlifes, while the second section documents the victim’s extraction of revenge upon those who violated her.
With the 2010 version, Steven R. Monroe proves to be the more accomplished filmmaker by expertly building and sustaining suspense throughout the lengthy depiction of Jennifer’s ordeal. With solid support from a screenplay that is more thoughtfully constructed than the sparsely-written original, the actors are given enough material to breath some life into their thinly-sketched characterizations. Sarah Butler delivers a commendably brave performance as Jennifer and her suffering is made even more unpleasant due to the relentlessly no-holds-barred performances from the rest of the cast. But in contrast what is notable about the original I Spit On Your Grave is, however crude and occasionally amateurish as Meir Zarchi’s handling of the material may be, there’s no attempt at manipulating the audience with the standard conventions of genre cinema. The ordeal plays out essentially in real time, the editing is blunt and matter-of-fact, there is no dramatic music score and all of these elements force the viewer to rawly experience the events from Jennifer’s perspective. By refusing to apply the traditional mechanics of genre cinema the 1978 version opens itself to wider sociological ramifications while Monroe’s I Spit On Your Grave stays rigidly within the uncomplicated confines of its genre’s objectives. This is not necessarily a negative criticism of the remake but simply illustrates that it is a film with a less subversive agenda.
Another significant variation between the 1978 and 2010 editions is the handling of the second half of each film in which Jennifer seeks her retribution. The original film has come under much criticism since this section of the narrative leaves itself open to misinterpretation due to the fact that, in two of the four subsequent murders, Jennifer uses the very femininity that her attackers brutalized to extract revenge. By seemingly claiming to have deserved and enjoyed her ordeal she exploits their misogyny to lure them into a false sense of security (in one of the film’s most memorable scenes, Jennifer entices one of her victims to share a bath with her during which she castrates and leaves him bleeding to death). As repellent as this concept may be, it illustrates even further the wretchedness of these remorseless characters and makes their comeuppance seem even more deserving. However, it has left the film susceptible to continuing debate from both its defenders and persecutors in regards to if the film has feminist sympathies or is irresponsible exploitation. For the remake this potential contention has been removed entirely and instead screenwriter Stuart Morse employs conventional elements that are more comfortably familiar to a modern horror audience: Jennifer unimaginatively knocks her victims unconscious and then puts them through elaborate torture-to-death scenarios resembling outtakes from a Hostel or Saw sequel while quipping one-liners recalling countless genre movies since the 80s. These gimmicky set-pieces are more viscerally satisfying than their 1978 counterparts due to their graphic grandiosity but unfortunately, after establishing itself during the assault sequences in an all-to-plausible world of realism, the film strains credibility when it departs into the realm of over-the-top wish-fulfillment for the retribution.
Anchor Bay Entertainment releases I Spit On Your Grave 2010 in a version shorn of 43 seconds (17 cuts) at the request of the British Board of Film Classification to “remove potentially harmful material (in this case, shots of nudity that tend to eroticise sexual violence and shots of humiliation that tend to endorse sexual violence by encouraging viewer complicity in sexual humiliation and rape)”. This truncated edition also received a very limited theatrical release in the UK. The cinemascope imagery by the late Neil Lisk (the film is dedicated to him) is presented in its correct 2.35.1 aspect ratio and is of excellent quality. The intended muted colour palette is correctly presented in this DVD release. Oddly, although the film is framed at 2.35.1, the closing credits scroll opens up and runs over the full 1.85.1 image which betrays its digital (as opposed to film) origins.
There are two audio options of 5.1 Surround Sound and 2.0 Dolby Stereo, both of which are serviceable and nicely capture the subtle music score by Corey A. Jackson.
While the American DVD contains an audio commentary from director Steven R. Monroe and producer Lisa Hansen as well as deleted scenes, these are not included on the UK disc which does, however, include the behind-the-scenes featurette (13 minutes) plus theatrical trailer, teaser trailer and radio spot which are also found on the US release.
Note: I Spit On Your Grave has also been released on Blu-Ray (Region B).