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11 Jan 2012

I Spit on Your Grave

What a waste of fake blood and makeup effects, to be in the service of a script so interminably dull.

Director: Steven R Monroe

Screenplay: Meir Zarchi, Stuart Morse

Cast: Sarah Butler, Jeff Branson, Andrew Howard, Rodney Eastman, Daniel Franzese, Chad Lindberg

What offends about I Spit on Your Grave is not its violence or its rape, but its dullness.

This remake of the 1978 exploitation film with Camille Keaton has Sarah Butler in the lead as Jennifer Hills, a writer who writes fiction of unknown genre, has an unknown family background, and apparently has no boyfriend. Judging by the one sentence of her forthcoming novel read aloud in the film, Hills isn't exactly the most talented specimen around; it sounds like vapid pap about rich white people learning precious life lessons!

While on a retreat in cabin in some God-forsaken corner of Louisiana which she rented from a stereotypical old hillbilly (Tracey Walter), she invites the attention of three nasty redneck boys who work at the gas station. These boys are so stereotypical, one of them is named Johnny, another wears a headscarf fashioned from a Confederate flag and dresses in Harley Davidson gear, and one of them is mentally retarded. Would you know, the retard also happens to be the local plumber, and the seemingly spick and span cabin apparently has faulty plumbing. When she gives the retard an entirely platonic kiss, it's just the first move down the slippery slope to her eventual degradation.

So we wait for nearly an hour for the action to build. Director Steven R Monroe and writer Stuart Morse tease us with the typical woman in peril scenes and a number of false starts involving noises in the night before we arrive at the pivotal, extended scene of rape and humiliation as the retard and his fellow rednecks come to teach her a lesson for her flirtatious city ways that belie a uppity attitude to their fellow Southern Brethren.

As it happens, the local Sheriff gets in on the act too, which may be understandable given the only other woman we see in the film is the Sheriff's pregnant wife, so obviously this community is suffering a serious shortage of double-X chromosomes and is prone for extinction due to a dangerously low reproductive rate. After this bunch of good ol' boys are finished with Jennifer, they almost kill her when she takes a dive into a river and inexplicably returns a month later to exact bloody revenge on them in a series of elaborate tortures and murders.

Brad Bird once said it's not the size of the fireball; it's how much you care for the person who's running from it. It is a rule that the filmmakers should have heeded. For the rawness of the scenes of rape and humiliation, they are strangely uninvolving due to the sheer lack of characterisation on display. For the tortures to be harrowing, they have to be carried out on characters we identify with, on both sides. The heroine is a blank. Her defilers and victims are stereotypes. The movie is about a blank getting degraded by a bunch of stereotypes and exacting revenge on those stereotypes after surviving in an entirely implausible fashion. In the era that has seen female characters like Lisbeth Salander and films like the Millennium trilogy that deal thoughtfully and powerfully with the futility of revenge and the terrible price of rough justice, this is a step back. What a waste of fake blood and makeup effects, to be in the service of a script so interminably dull.

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