Mark Reviews Movies


Zero Stars (out of 4)

Director: Steven R. Monroe

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

MPAA Rating: NR

Running Time: 1:47

Release Date: 10/8/10

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 7, 2010

The remake of I Spit on Your Grave is so detestable it makes the exploitative, misguided 1978 original seem a thoughtful rumination on the subject. And the subject, the extended humiliation and rape of a young woman followed by the same woman gruesomely murdering her assailants, is the definition of exploitation.

The woman is Jennifer (Sarah Butler), who drives out to a cabin in the woods. She's a writer working on her next book, she tells the cabin's owner Earl (Tracey Walter), the first of a handful of down-home, good ol' boys she'll encounter on her doomed trip. It's all the characterization Stuart Morse's screenplay (based on Meir Zarchi's first) allots her, and it is, sadly, more than he needs to assign. She is a woman, and therefore, she is a victim. Without that horrific, idiotic assumption, the movie does not exist.

Lost on the way to her isolated retreat, she stops at a gas station where she meets the rest. There are four young men, led by Johnny (Jeff Branson). The others are the developmentally disabled Matthew (Chad Lindberg), Stanley (Daniel Franzese) with his video camera, and the also-present Andy (Rodney Eastman). Johnny flirts with Jennifer, and she shoots his piss-poor, joking advances down. The boys sit around in the woods, filming as they beat a fish with a baseball bat and drinking, and they start ribbing Johnny on his miserable failure with the girl. He turns it around on her: Surely, he figures, a girl like that from the big city, is nothing more than a worthless slut, and damned if anyone like that makes him feel like any less of a man.

These are the movie's heroes. Call them protagonists, if it makes you feel better, but these imbecilic, hateful, sociopathic pieces of filth are the central characters of the movie. They, along with the local sheriff named Storch (Andrew Howard), are the ones Morse's script follows. It's their fear of getting caught that drives the second act. It's Matthew's guilt with which the movie sympathizes. It's Storch's family life—pregnant wife and daughter at home—that the movie wants to emphasize for its seemingly paradoxical nature. It's Johnny's pride that brings him to his end. They are not just protagonists in Morse's view; they are tragic heroes.

Jennifer is just the victim. The six men humiliate her on camera (a shoddy, laughable metaphor for the audience's willingness to go along vicariously with them) and a few take turns raping her. The sequence goes on for 25 minutes with a few stalls as Jennifer tries and fails to escape, a fake sense of suspense that only emphasizes Morse's torturous intentions.

Then, Jennifer is gone. Most of them want to assume she is dead, but Storch wants vigilance. They search the woods every day for a month, and that's where we have the misfortune to follow their lives.

Strange things happen. Matthew has visions (or are they?) of Jennifer in the woods. Johnny hears noises in his backyard and finds a dead bird on his porch—the same things that happened to Jennifer that night a month ago. Jennifer is alive, and, in the most contemptible turn of events so far, director Steven R. Monroe, using the language and clichés of the horror genre, has turned her into a monster—a phantom boogeyman. Before, she was merely prey; now, she is not even human.

Butler's emotionless performance in the later sections echoes that sentiment. She employs an unfeeling monotone.  Her eyes reveal nothing, and the concrete veneer only breaks with a contrived, loaded smirk when all her work is done.

That work comprises the entire third act, as Jennifer captures or lures each of her attackers and organizes a personal torture of them. One is tethered over a bathtub full of lye and water. Another is tied to a tree, his eyelids held open with fishhooks. Another has the business end of a shotgun performing a prostate examination. Jennifer sets these situations so that their deaths are not dealt directly by her. Well, except one, in which she explains what farmhands do to a stallion that can't be control and proceeds to do the same to him, feeding him the results.

Monroe presents these scenes in visceral, graphic detail. In terms of horror, these are the money shots. They are what I Spit on Your Grave has been building toward, and all it takes is the abject destruction of a young woman to get there.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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