Review by Adam Wills
With a rash of Hollywood remakes surfacing, especially in the horror genre, it has become quite obvious of the motivation behind stream of projects getting the green light. Throw in a familiar name in the genre, and the movie sells itself. Mega franchises such as Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween have all seen remakes/reboots/sequels, and have been gobbled up by both horror fanatics and casual fans alike.
When I learned of a remake of the 1978 classic I Spit On Your Grave, I was quite hesitant on grouping it in with the previously mentioned group of films. Would the makers of the film take a more mainstream, modernized approach (which I thought was more likely of a scenario), or would we actually get to see a faithful homage to the original, embracing today’s technology to make some great quality films on a smaller budget? It’s always a roll of the dice these days.
When I got a chance to view the Toronto premiere at the Toronto After Dark Festival, I jumped on the opportunity to see what director Steven R. Monroe had put together. I even had the great opportunity to chat with him prior to the screening to discuss both of our issues with the original. Even though it’s considered a classic, there are some great flaws with the storyline and characters that really put a stop to me being totally immersed in the theatrical experience. Thankfully, Monroe addressed all of these shortcomings.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, it’s a standard revenge story. Jennifer, a young woman from the “big city”, escapes to a small cabin where she can focus on writing her new novel. When a group of men from the nearby town discover that she’s there alone, they assault, humiliate, and rape her, and leave her dead (or so they think). Jennifer eventually gathers her strength back, and searches for revenge on those who were involved. It’s a rather simple plot, that has been done many times over, but it was the brutality and graphic nature that set this film apart from any other that had come out at the time.
One of my biggest problems with the original was the character of Matthew, the mentally challenged man, who gets tangled into the web of abuse through the mockery and encouragement of the other men. In the original, the character of Matthew is a cartoon-ish parody of himself – a bumbling fool who has no thought of his own. While this might be the blame of the time period that the film came out in, it really takes away from the otherwise grave seriousness of the film’s subject matter.
My other main problem with the first film is the method of Jennifer’s revenge. The original Jennifer seduced her victims, even going as far as engaging in intercourse with them en route to their vicious demise. Considering what she had just been through, would anyone believe that the character would be willing to do this? Would the victims be so naive as to fall for her trap? Again, a suspension of reality comes into play just to move the plot along, and it just didn’t work for me.
Thankfully, I didn’t have any gripes after seeing Monroe’s updated version.
Instead of rewriting the story, the remake adds additional context, fills in some obvious holes, and ups the ante on the vengeful terror that Jennifer thrusts upon her “victims”. Chad Lindberg does a great job in the modern version of keeping the character real and appropriate to the mood of the entire film. Jennifer traps her victims, not with sexual advances, but with the ferocity of a blood-thirsty killer. With the introduction of a new character, the question of “why doesn’t she just call the police” gets answered. Even the acts of vengeance have much more depth behind them, as the deaths of the victims heavily relate to the characters and their previous actions.
Monroe executed a remake successfully in every way possible: keeping faithful to the original in both mood and basic story; updating the characters to be more relevant to our time period; using current technology to improve the quality of filming and effects; and addressing the problems of the original. The cast do a wonderful job of really creating believable characters, especially considering some of the troubling scenes that they had to endure. Sarah Butler does an incredible job in portraying Jennifer in all aspects of the character – both the terrorized victim in the first half, and the vengeful murderer in the second half.
While the subject matter, along with the intensity of its display, may not be for everyone, 2010’s I Spit On Your Grave is a must-see for horror fans. For those who have a bitter taste in their mouths from a number of less-than-satisfying remakes, rest assured that this maintains the spirit of the original classic, while making the material fresh enough to warrant it’s existence. Despite already knowing the story and even the outcome, the massive amounts of suspense and anticipation will leave you on the edge of your seat; the perverse and violent abuse of Jennifer will have you covering your eyes; and cheering the protagonist along in the second half.
I Spit On Your Grave opens in Canada on October 15th. Due to the film being unrated, it will only be playing in select theatres – check your local listings for availability.