Thursday, June 5, 2008

I Spit on Your Grave

This was not my pick. Whitney over at Dear Jesus thought that the most romantic way to spend this evening would be to watch a couple of rape revenge movies and clog the toilet for six hours.

As a part of our Top 5 Movies We Don't Want to Watch Marathon Whitney and I each chose five movies that we've said (on more than one occasion) that we would never watch. We each picked a rape revenge movie from the '70s, mine was The Last House on the Left and she picked the one we watched tonight.

Whitney picked a gem with this one. I Spit on Your Grave. This film spit in my face. Roger Ebert called it a "vile bag of garbage." I called it a "vile bag of garbage." He said it first.

Jokes aside, this movie is disgusting. A woman is viciously attacked by psychopaths (who come off more like a bunch of bored yokels than actual crazy people) because she's sexual. Her greatest crime, according to the group's ringleader, was lying around at the lake in a swimsuit and answering her door without wearing a bra. It's a crime when Jean Stapleton does it, not when Buster Keaton's grandniece does it.

In forty-five of the most disturbing minutes I've ever sat through, Jennifer is attacked and held down by four men. One of the men rapes her and taunts the others to join in. Following the attack, the film doesn't fade to black like you might expect it to. The bruised, battered, and bloody woman struggles to her feet and walks through the woods.

We follow her as she trips and stumbles around until she eventually finds a man playing the harmonica. Our stomachs churn as the potential rescuer turns out to be one of her assailants. They rape her again. She fights to crawl back to her house. They're waiting for her in the house! They rape her again. Not knowing anything about this movie, I never expected to see anything like this. Jennifer, lying naked, blood-soaked, and unconscious, is left for dead.

Rape scenes are always tough to watch, but until tonight, the worst I had seen landed in the R-rated Death Wish realm. Death Wish was like that sneezing panda video compared to I Spit on Scott's Face. I knew very little about this movie before watching it. I knew it was a rape revenge movie and that it was supposed to be pretty rough. Well, I was correct on both counts. This movie features a woman being raped three times in less than an hour. What?

The second half of the movie follows Jennifer as she gets her revenge on her attackers. Some people have argued that the film is pro-women. It shows a woman getting revenge on those who wronged her and so on and so forth. I can see how a film like Ms. 45 might have that argument made for it, although I think it'd be a weak argument. I Spit on Your Grave is not pro-women, at least by any definition I subscribe to.

Los Angeles New Times critic, Luke Y. Thompson makes a compelling argument against those who claim the I Spit on Your Grave isn't as anti-women as Roger Ebert would make it seem. He states, "Defenders of the film have argued that it's actually pro-woman, due to the fact that the female lead wins in the end, which is sort of like saying that cockfights are pro-rooster because there's always one left standing." I couldn't agree more. For almost an hour, we watch Jennifer get graphically beaten and raped, to the point where you wish it would seem unbelievable but somehow that relief never comes.

Whitney and I's opinions differed when it came to Matthew, one of the attacker characters. Clearly mentally challenged, Johnny hangs out with this group of rednecks and throughout the film he is pressured to beat, rape, and kill Jennifer.

My main problem with Matthew's character is the sense of comedy he brings to the film. Now, Matthew's not funny, but his actions are specifically comedic. From the way he swigs his alcohol before he rapes Jennifer to the dance he does as he's taking off his clothes, Matthew serves as a distraction from the atrocities that are taking place. The film becomes less effective, at least from a pro-women standpoint, each time the viewer is taken out of the horror that the story hold. For every second that we are tempted to chuckle at his actions, the viewer is brought that much further from grasping the realistic terror that is being depicted.

Matthew's character is proof enough for me that the director did not have a single pro-woman thought running through his head while making this movie. Whitney and I discussed whether the problems were found on a script level or in the actor's performance and I'm lead to believe that it's most likely both. Richard Pace's performance is extremely campy while the rest of the performances are eerily not. He's just one part of this movie that didn't sit well with me but I don't want this to turn into a rant so I'm ending it here.

I Spit on Your Grave was worse than I thought it was going to be in that there were three times the amount of rapes as I would have guessed. As far as being a well-made film, it's really not as terrible as you'd think. The absence of any type of non-diegetic score really worked for instilling an overall creepiness. The look of the film is on par with a lot of other films of that time, surprisingly well shot. The sound needed work but not as much as the script. In the end, I went in striving to give this one a fair chance and that's what it received. What I received was a movie experience like none I had ever had before, good or bad, at least it's something.


whitney said...

I don't think that the director had to have feminist intentions for this to be a quasi-feminist film. I doubt the director really cared at all about women as a group. But I think, inadvertently maybe, he ended up making a statement, comedic relief or not. I think his attempts at humor (her calling that guy a "bitch" or maybe even part of the castration scene, for example) sometimes become a way of her empowerment towards the end of the film. But I'm definitely not sure. I hated watching this movie.

Ross Williams said...

This is a film, I've always meant to see, but have had trepidations about. I laughed at Hostel, I think it's a dark comedy, but I too draw the line at rape... especially if it's this detailed and long. I probably won't bother now.

Irreversible, an otherwise great film, is another film with a hard to stomach rape scene, I've wanted to see it a 2nd time, but I can't go back to it, knowing that scene's there.

elgringo said...

1. Damn you Whitney for calling me on the one point I didn't touch on. I began writing a paragraph on how the film can be a feminist statement even if that wasn't the director's intention. It was late, I was lazy, excuses are lame.

2. I never saw Hostel but I did watch Saw a few times. Is Irreversible the one with the sound playing through out that's supposed to make you sick to your stomach? I haven't checked this out yet but I intended to. Maybe a double feature of Irreversible and Ichi The Killer for a delightful evening?

Thanks for the comments! said...

Not to further your exploration of rape revenge movies, but I noticed neither of you 2 have mentioned Gaspar Noe's beyond disturbing "Irreversible." It's the ultimate in rape revenge and although I'd never, ever "recommend it" to anyone, it's a pretty brutal and amazing film. And, it has Monica Belucci! Well, it has her getting raped for like, 5 plus minutes in one big, long take. Ack. See it...or, don't. Or, do.

zeynep said...

Saw Machine Girl last night at Roxie. Not sure whether it's relevant to your discussion on I Spit on Your Grave since I haven't seen it yet. Although it was all about a Japanese teen getting revenge on those who killed her brother. The grossness outweighs the hilariousness, and the film shows the ultimate way of objectifying/fetishizing women (yes, there's two women struggling together for a while yet the film ensures there remains one Final Girl) under the pretense of female empowerment. I wonder what you'd think..