This is how you do a remake. This is how you expand upon the original, update it, and make it better. “I Spit on Your Grave” is what we always hope and so rarely get when we see a movie remade. When I first heard they were doing this, after my initial thought of “Why?” my next was “There is no way they’ll be able to do a good version of this in today’s PC environment”. Much like every time I was sure the Minnesota Vikings were going all the way, I was wrong.
The original film is one of those infamous oddities that the majority of people with opinions on it have never actually seen it…they’ve just heard all about it so they know man, they know!! I actually have seen it (in fact, it lead in a strange way to my introduction to this site, he says cryptically) and can tell you it’s a better movie than has been said, while still not being really good and is as disturbing as you’ve heard. I’ve always believed the main thing that pissed people off, which they’ll never admit, was that it was the woman who got revenge. “Last House on the Left” was in every way as brutal and, in fact, two women were brutally raped & murdered, but it was the parents and, more specifically, THE MAN! who got revenge and it didn’t get near the amount of hate ISoYG did. I just don’t get it, but apparently it’s ok to brutalize our sweet, little innocent flowers as long as they don’t try and reap bloody vengeance upon the perpetrators themselves. But enough about the original and it’s times, how about the new one?
The new version is superior in pretty much every conceivable way.
Starting with the cast. As much a Camille Keaton was a looker and one of the five best screamers in the history of film, she wasn’t that great an actor. Sarah Butler as Jennifer is, while also being so painfully gorgeous that it somehow makes what happens to her all the worse. It’s like if the ugly fat kid gets kidnapped, we don’t care, but if the pretty blonde girl is, all media stops, coverage is none-stop and Nancy Grace creates her own 24-hour channel to discuss it. I’m not saying it’s right, it’s just the way we are. Sarah brings a real naturalness to the part, too. Especially in the opening scenes where she is essentially alone, going about her days. I never got the feeling that she was “Acting!” she just was. She was also all too convincing during the rape.
This seems as good a time as any to delve into that part of the movie. Yep, the flick is pretty much centered on poor Jennifer getting brutally raped. A lot. In the original, they showed you the whole damned thing, as well as all of her naked body while it was going on. In this one they don’t, but I found it even more horrific. There was more lead up as the good ‘ol boys were in her house. A rather slow, not so gentle build in nastiness. You realize she is one, slim girl and here are four big guys and, basically, whatever they want to do to her, they will. Thankfully, Jennifer actually has a brain (which she shows on a few occasions) and is able to escape. She then runs into the local Sheriff. Hooray! Everything’s going to be okay now! Um…not so much. See, Sheriff is buddies with the good ‘ol boys and after he brings her back to the house, he calls them back in and this is where the nastiness really starts.
Unlike the original, there are no long shots of her naked body during this sequence. In fact, she is partially clothed through the majority of it. You see enough and hear enough to know what is happening. These guys are bastards and they treat her as less than a piece of meat. You are even (thankfully) spared they final two guy’s time with her, but you know what they did. The aftermath is one of the areas where this movie definitely improved upon the original. Somehow, the original crew thought that the best idea was to have the “special” member of their crew be the one to kill her, while they all took off. Yeah, nothing could possibly go wrong with this plan! Here, she weakly gets up, staggers off with the raping motherfuckers following closely behind, laughing at her and just as they are about to shotgun her in the back, she falls into the river. And doesn’t come up. This leads to some concern on their part as it sure looks like she drowned/was eaten by a crocodile, but no body = can’t be totally sure. Regardless, they set about erasing any possible sign of her existence from the area. And keep a weathered eye open.
A month goes past. Enough time to relax, let your weight down. Now it’s THEM who get the feeling of “Everything’s going to be OK now!” Then little things start happening, little reminders of the recent past. Again, the movie begins to build beautifully, but this time you’re into it, this time you’re enjoying it and looking forward to what’s coming instead of dreading it.
I’ve been reading a lot about how unrealistic Jennifer’s little treats for the boys are, how they even out Saw “Saw”. I simply did not feel that way. First off, she uses nothing that you have not seen in the first part of the movie, nothing that is not readily at hand. Second, she had a month to plan. Basically to do nothing but sleep…and to plan. Third, we see not only because of her physical form but her activities (jogging & such in the beginning and I must say…wow, she is what God had in mind when He made woman), that she is in fantastic shape. And finally…she’s a writer. Writers can come up with some pretty twisted shit. Imagine what a writer who has the reasons for revenge that she does can come up with? She was also clever in having their comeuppance be individually related to them in some special way. Some more special than others, tee hee.
During her revenge is where Sarah Butler really shines for me. She is not the cold, emotionless, calculating killer. She is all there, she knows what she is doing…and she is enjoying it. There is a real glint in her eye. I freakin’ loved that. I must admit, I have an unnatural love for hot, hard core, kick-ass chicks, whether they are girls like Mathilda, Hayley Stark & Hit Girl or women like Ripley, Elizabeth Swann & Nikita. And Jennifer can stand side by side with the best of them. I found myself enjoying this part of the movie probably more than I should have and definitely more than the three guys sitting in front of me, who I don’t think were expecting her to get THAT pissed. Guys like that I hope this movie sticks in their head as a true cautionary tale. But back on point, Sarah was fantastic through all of it. The last shot of her before the movie ends is one of my favorite shots in years.
The rest of the cast fit their roles perfectly. Again, to make a comparison, the original guys were just so skeezy, one look at them and any right thinking person would simply turn around. In this, their leader, Stanley, looked like just another, kinda hunky, backwoods guy, one you would pass in the street and not think anything else of him. And had Jennifer not inadvertently embarrassed him in front of his buddies, one might wonder if any of this would have happened. I also really liked the addition of the Sheriff character. Matthew, the “Special” member of the group was even more sympathetic in this, so it was good to have one more true bastard to root against and Sheriff Storch fit the bill perfectly. When things start happening to him and he starts to lose it, it is happy making.
It was also a beautifully shot movie which, combined with Sarah’s extreme gorgeousness, added to the horror of what occurs. When something is already gritty and grimy, the horror is expected. When things look beautiful and clear, it is more shocking as bad things don’t happen when things are pretty…right? The music as well…perfect.
Now, this is kind of a hard movie to recommend. For what it is, it is damn near perfect in my eyes. But, it’s still a movie about a sweet woman getting gang raped almost to the point of death and then graphically getting her revenge. If you know what you’re getting into, I can not recommend it highly enough. If the thought of it makes you even a wee bit squeamish…best to stay at home for this one. In fact this is the first of my reviews that I’m not sending to everyone I know, as there are people I simply do not want to see it, no matter how good it is. Hard core movie aficionados though, definitely check it out.
As far as remakes go, more like this please.