The latest in a long line of horror remakes, this time the infamous 1978 shocker. Ian Sandwell asks was it worth it?
Sometimes it’s not sacrilege to remake a film, but it might ultimately prove to be pointless and this is certainly the case with I Spit On Your Grave. However ardent a fanboy you may be of the original, it certainly isn’t a classic and sailed by on its ‘video nasty’ status; even the name change from Day Of The Woman to I Spit On Your Grave screams of sensationalism and did indeed lead to more publicity for the film, not of the positive kind, but you know the old saying. Therefore this Steven Munroe-helmed remake isn’t fighting a lost cause trying to improve on its predecessor, but it is maybe fighting a pointless one as it’s hard to see many people wanting to watch a film primarily about a gang rape, however satisfying the gang’s comeuppance may prove, and even those people might not want to endure it more than once.
Make no mistake about it, although this may have passed through the censors relatively unscathed in comparison to the original (17 cuts equalling 43 seconds), it still isn’t an easy watch. The central rape sequence lasts for around ten minutes and that’s not including the extended build up when they torment Jennifer (Sarah Butler) in her cabin which will prove unsettling for even the hardest viewer. Its effect is increased by the use of a handheld camera view which makes the viewer even more of a voyeur, removing the distancing effect of film, and rarely pulls away from the act. Thankfully, it’s not anywhere near as protracted as the original and fades to black before the end, but it’s hard to see anyone willing to witness it a second time; skipping to the start of the revenge will likely be a better starting point for most people and therein lies the film’s major problem: its rewatchability.
There’s no doubt that the rape sequence serves its purpose in being so depraved and sickening as to make you want nothing else other than bloody, painful revenge on its instigators, and it arguably wouldn’t provoke the same response if you as a viewer were told about it instead, but it does make I Spit On Your Grave an intriguing one-off watch and no more. The revenge scenes when they come though are satisfyingly lo-fi (there aren’t any Saw-style high-tech traps here) and eye-wateringly brutal in points as well but even knowing what awaits the instigators doesn’t make the preceding scenes any easier to watch, and surely having a film without replay value defeats the purpose of making a film in the first place?
You could argue however that anyone choosing to watch I Spit On Your Grave already knows exactly what they’re in for and as such, the only thing that really matters is whether it’s any good and it is, potentially even better than it has any right to be. It’s all helped by a strong lead performance by Sarah Butler who really comes into her own after the rape and portrays a broken woman, all vacant stares and uncontrolled outbursts of anger, excellently. She’s supported by a decent, if somewhat caricatured, cast who nonetheless succeed in being completely dislikeable and therefore adding to your urge for them to get what’s coming. The latter half of the film even introduces a twisted sense of dark humour to proceedings which is a very welcome addition, making the revenge scenes all the more disturbingly entertaining with gore surprisingly, in these days of torture porn, kept to a minimum with suggestion working extremely well as a substitute.
In comparison to the original as well, there have been some notable changes. Instead of following Jennifer after the rape, we’re left with the instigators and there are some half-hearted attempts to create a back-story for them, i.e. the Sheriff is a God-fearing family man despite what he does, but if anything this makes the film stall a touch. There’s no denying we need a breather after what has occurred, but a better mix between both sides of the story would have made this section more involving. That being said, by that point in the film, everyone would just be waiting for the revenge to start and they won’t be disappointed with the final 30 minutes of it and the differences in method from the original, at least gives the film its own identity, even if the plot is identical.
Overall, you would have probably already decided whether or not you’re going to watch I Spit On Your Grave, so to critique it on the grounds of decency is somewhat missing the point. Yes, it deals with a sickening subject matter but if horror films can’t push the boundaries, then what films can. For those willing to put themselves through it, I Spit On Your Grave is slick update that’s as twisted and hard to watch as the original, without going to the same extremes, although still remaining pretty extreme. It may not be the first film you jump to for a re-watch, but it does what it says on the tin very effectively.
I Spit On Your Grave is encoded for region B with a total file size of just over 33Gb, with the film itself consituting a 29.5Gb file size running at 23.976 fps using the MPEG-4 encoder. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 16:9 and at 1080p, and although there is a definite style choice of a muted colour scheme, it is as sharp a transfer as the subject matter of the film is brutal. This muted colour scheme does result in some over-saturated whites when the light is coming in through windows, for example, but this just adds to the uneasiness of the film’s tone. The colour scheme also lends the transfer a grubbily realistic feel and becomes especially effective with the use of shadows in the latter part of the film as Jennifer stalks her attackers. It will never be demo material with no real money shots to speak of, although there are some good uses of reflection when light is allowed to seep into the frame, but it is a very faithful transfer that perfectly suits the nature of the film.
Perhaps wary of the realism of both the film and the transfer, there are some sudden aspect ratio changes (as seen in the still below) during the extended rape scenes which occur in a blink of an eye. They do take you out of the film in the same way that the use of video camera playback drags you in and, if they’re not just a flaw of the transfer, they work well in reminding you that it’s ‘only a film’ during its darker moments.
Coming equipped with an English 5.1 DTS-HD soundtrack, as well as an English 2.0 LPCM version, the film lacks the bombastic scores usually associated with horror films. Instead the film relies on ambient sound, especially within the forest scenes and around the cabin, with a disturbing lack of background noise during the rape scene which makes the screams all the more unsettling and impactful. This results in a soundtrack that while, like the transfer, isn’t going to be demo material or wake the neighbours, it is a very realistic one in keeping with the manner of the film. It also takes full advantage of any sudden noises, like the closing of shears or reverberation of pipe hitting pipe, delivering them in a crisp clarity.
A disappointing selection, especially in comparison to the American release. Whereas our friends across the pond got an audio commentary with the director Steven Munroe and producer Lisa Hansen and a selection of deleted scenes, the only things remaining for us from the American, region-locked, version are an uninspired 13 minute making of, presented in 1080i, and a selection of press material. Apart from raising the point of how the depravity of the rape enhances the feeling of retribution for the audience, the making of is just concerned with various cast members telling us the usual things. It’s unfortunate because there was definite scope for going into the reasoning behind choosing to remake such an infamous film and while that may have been in the American commentary, we’re none the wiser. The trailers are presented in 1080p but while they certainly present the film well, they’re hardly an invaluable extra.
Fans of the film might also be disappointed in the fact that the American version came unrated and uncut, but in this reviewer’s opinion, it’s hard to see why anyone would want to see more of the central rape sequence.
As horror remakes go, I Spit On Your Grave is certainly one of the strongest predominantly thanks to a strong and believable turn by Sarah Butler as the central victim, with a better-than-average transfer to boot. It doesn’t pull its punches and isn’t a film for everyone; however for those willing to go through it, they’ll be rewarded with a film that at times is a brutal watch but one that is oddly satisfying come its final act.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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