When is a remake actually better than the original? When it’s I Spit On Your Grave – a re-imagining of the notorious 1978 shocker that had critics, censors and feminist groups in a right tizzy because of its exploitative title and subject matter concerning a rape victim who chooses to fight back.
Writer Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) rents a cabin by a lake in the backwaters of Shreveport, Louisiana where she plans to write her latest novel. But her solitude is soon disturbed. Jonny (Jeff Branson), the petrol station attendant she had insulted earlier in the day, and his buddies force their way into the cabin and subject Jennifer to hours of humiliation and rape. The next day, after enduring even more degradation, Jennifer escapes and seemingly commits suicide. But Jennifer soon returns to enact her revenge…
Meir Zarchi, the writer and director of the original, is the executive producer on the remake, and it’s a plus as his input has ensured that none of the power of the original is lost in translation; only the set-up and execution of Jennifer’s revenge has been changed. In the original, Jennifer seduced her attackers before killing them (and upsetting feminists everywhere), but the new version sees Jennifer ingeniously trapping her victims and paying them back tenfold for what they did to her.
The plot device isn’t new – I was reminded of Theatre of Blood – but it’s much more graphic: the first victim is strangled, the second gets to watch his own death (and it’s bloody brilliant), the third is waterboarded; while the final two get their just desserts in splendidly gruesome fashion (I won’t spoil it for you, but sometimes ‘saying sorry just isn’t good enough’).
This film stands out from the usual revenge thrillers because of the solid performances, especially newcomer Sarah Butler as Jennifer. When she goes into revenge mode, all her anger and hurt is in her eyes. It’s subtle, and very effective. The guys who play her attackers, meanwhile, portray their hick characters as everyday blokes – making their heinous attack on Jennifer all the more dreadful.
This is also a much more mature effort from director Steven R Monroe, the man behind SyFy monster movies like Ogre and Sasquatch Mountain – helped greatly by the strength of Zarchi’s original source. Gritty, raw and emotionally charged, the all-new I Spit On Your Grave is slicker and less exploitative than the original, but it will still make you see red – only this time because of what you see through Jennifer’s eyes (courtesy of ‘Stanley Vision’, of course).
Big tip: If you do choose to rent a cabin (with very basic amenities) in the middle of nowhere, and find yourself in trouble – always carry a fully-charged back-up mobile.
In cinemas from 21 January