How did I Spit on Your Grave become a movie about the rapists?

I have no interest in rehashing the first half of either one of these films - they contain extended rape sequences which I'd rather not have watched, so we'll just leave a comparison of that aspect of the two films, whether one was more objectionable than the other, and why, to another, stronger-stomached reviewer. I'd prefer to focus on the bizarre choice the filmmakers made to change who the movie was about halfway through.

The original 'Day of the Woman' is told almost entirely from the main character Jennifer's point of view. She travels from New York, she meets the locals, she gets brutally attacked, she exacts her vengeance. There are only a small number of scenes in the movie in which she doesn't appear - two of which are key. One involves the local ruffians fishing and getting drunk, letting their petty hatreds reinforce one another until they're tuned up enough to do something awful the next day (a scene that appears in the remake), in the second scene, where the four increasingly paranoid rapists gather at a diner to try and figure out why their supposed murder victim hasn't been discovered by the police yet.

That second scene, just a small moment designed to let the viewer know why they haven't come back to check on Jennifer's body, makes up the content of the entire second half of the remake 'I Spit on Your Grave'.

In the 2010 version Jennifer disappears from the story entirely for an entire month after her rape and attempted murder. The rapists return to their lives, assume everything has gone back to normal, with only the missing corpse as the last unresolved piece of the puzzle. What's Jennifer up to all this time? She's hiding in the woods, regaining her strength, and transforming herself into a horror movie villain.

If the term 'villain' sounds too harsh, that's only because you haven't seen the film. Here are some of the ways in which Jennifer's return is hinted at in the movie:

Leaving mysterious clues pointing to the crime.

Stealing evidence that would incriminate the rapists, then taunting them with it.

Making noises at night to distract and unnerve the lead rapist.

Then she moves into full-on horror villain territory, springing up from the back seat of a car to surprise the final rapist:

Obviously the story is about a woman getting revenge for a rape, and she's going to kill those guys - but why is she portrayed as a lurking monster while doing so? It can't be an attempt at mystery; while the rapists briefly assume that their retarded friend might be playing tricks out of guilt, the audience can't possibly think that - and not just because this film is a remake.

It certainly doesn't help that this film does a much worse job of humanizing its rapists than the first film did, which, oddly, makes them less scary. I Spit On Your Grave's villains are almost cartoonishly evil, their leader possessing an obsession with horse imagery that seems like a writer's conceit included because it seems icky, rather than something someone might actually think or say in that situation. Then there's the issue of the new character added to the story, the local sheriff who's so blasé about jumping into the rape that the audience can only assume he's some kind of monstrous serial killer who's gotten away with it until just now.

Day of the Woman, by contrast, featured men whose entitlement, selfishness, and group-reinforced machismo allowed them to convince themselves that any show of female attractiveness is an invitation to sex, and they act according to that belief. In the film's most damning indictment of this male mindset, Jennifer lures the lead rapist into a gruesome trap by reinforcing his insane belief that really, deep down, she'd 'wanted it'. While not a particularly well-written or entirely believable scene, the bathtub gelding of the lead rapist serves as an interesting reversal of the rapist's mindset - he believes his sexuality is a dominating force over women, but it's a woman's understanding of his sexuality that dominates him and leads to his undoing.

It nay not be the most complex or original message, to be sure, but at least it's in there. The remake lacks a message of any kind, except, perhaps, that the rapists win in the end.

Not in the literal sense that the get to go on raping and killing, of course, but rather they win in that their actions have forever scarred Jennifer. Towards the beginning of the film she seems relatively upbeat and light-hearted, working away on her novel while sunning herself on a dock and enjoying a glass of wine. When she reappears post-rape Jennifer is only depicted as a creature of darkness and cruelty. Never smiling or enjoying herself, the Jennifer of the first half-hour of the film is gone, replaced by a reflection of the acts committed against her. Take a look at the last shot of the film:

She's finally the only thing onscreen, but there's no Jennifer left in that image. We're not supposed to empathize or identify with her, just coldly watch her actions.

Day of the Woman never stops being about Jennifer. What happens after the rapists leave, believing her dead? She takes a shower and starts patching herself up. Type 'I Spit On Your Grave' into Google image search and you'll get pictures of the poster, and of rape scenes, and of the guy bleeding all over the bathroom. You won't find much of this, however:

Those are screenshots from the full minute of the movie that's devoted entirely to Jennifer recovering from mental and physical anguish in the immediate aftermath of the rape. This is followed by scenes of a physically healed Jennifer attempting to emotionally cope with what's happened, all leading to my favorite scene in the movie:

She pieces together the pages of her manuscript that the rapists had so callously torn apart, and then:

Finishes writing her novel!

Is the 'putting together the pieces' an unbelievably literal metaphor? Absolutely - but it serves an important purpose. It lets us know that while Jennifer may have been affected by her assault, even badly damaged psychologically, but at some core level, she hasn't stopped being the Jennifer she was when she left New York to write a novel.

Day of the Woman makes the argument that while being raped might make you want revenge (and perhaps even entitle you to get it), it won't necessarily destroy who you are.

I Spit On Your Grave makes the argument that being raped turns you into the Jigsaw Killer.

Which do you think I'm coming out on the side of?

No comments: