I Spit On Your Grave
Directed by Steven R. Monroe
Last year’s outrages are already quaint. Back then, in The Last House on the Left remake, a revolting rape scene carried on several sickening and unnecessary seconds too long. But in this year’s I Spit on Your Grave remake—a cabin-in-the-woods horror movie in which the monsters are not supernatural but mere men—a similarly gratuitous rape scene continues across several settings, from the cabin to the woods to the cabin to the woods. The woman is beaten and raped and raped and raped and stripped and shot, and this is after she has already been weirdly humiliated at length: made to feign oral sex on a bottle neck and a gun barrel; to show her teeth; to whinny like the showhorse her attackers keep calling her. The ordeal lasts from night into morning, and takes up an entire act of the film.
Of course, I Spit on Your Grave is only following the lead of its predecessor. But the original’s villains seemed banal at first, making their eventual crime, and the casualness with which they committed it, all the more shocking. Even more surprising was the retributive violence they would meet at the hand of their victim, not only because it subverted the standard horror formula—making the killer into the hero—but because it marked a sea change in the treatment of women. Her righteous vengeance validated rape as a punishable offense; it was the 70s, man—men who forced themselves on women could now be castrated.
We should all know by now that sexual assault is wrong. But does director Monroe? He gets harder for rape than revenge. You can see the former coming from reels away, and you can feel him licking his lips. Later, of course, a few reels of cool-headed comeuppance are meant to atone for the immoderate abuse, but none of the attackers are forced to suffer for nearly as long as their victim. Monroe stages their deaths relatively quickly, as though grudgingly fulfilling a moral requirement—that the attacked heroine finds empowerment through psychotic revenge. A man is made to suck his own severed cock; a sodomist gets a shotgun up the ass. It’s a like a quick torture-porn hits-reel tacked onto a snuff film. (The most curious of the vengeances wrought is against the attacker who camcorders the attacks—the “sick fuck” who “likes to watch”. That his eyes are pecked out by crows seems a clear rebuke of the audience.)
But maybe the new I Spit on Your Grave handles gender politics so clumsily because it isn’t supposed to be about the violence faced by women, but about a conflict between classes. Jennifer (Sarah Butler) plays a writer heading out into the country for the peace and quiet needed to finish her novel. She is laden with signifiers: white wine, bikini, designer sunglasses; she touches up her lipstick when alone, at night, in an isolated cabin. She’s a classic big-city bitch; “novelist” serves as shorthand for East Coast elitist. When she butts heads with the local country yokels, she comes up against populists exercising their anger at those elites—she falls prey, that is, to the vitriol of quintessential Tea Partiers. (One attacker, a cop is interrupted mid-rape by a call from his daughter—Bristol? Willow? Piper?—asking about breakfast and church.) Their just deserts, then, aren’t about women striking back against the injustices of men. It’s Hollywood lashing out against the conspicuous villainy of the anti-Obama crowd, marking a sea change in the treatment of coastal elites.
Opens October 8