Here is why you and I have watched I Spit on Your Grave: it allegedly has one of the longest and most violent rape scenes on film. My knowledge of rape scenes in film is somewhat lacking, but I am told by people both in real life and in internet life that there are movies whose content is more gruesome. Still, this film probably contains the most harrowing moments that I have seen to date.
There’s a lot of debate about the merits of the film. One camp is content to call it among the worst films ever made; this group includes legendary film critic Roger Ebert. These people claim that there is no reason to show the violence toward women that is shown in I Spit on Your Grave. They believe that the film isn’t just bad, but fundamentally immoral. Ebert himself gave the film an incredible zero star rating. Then there are those who believe that the movie is an underrated classic, wrongly maligned for its content — its real strength in its… um…
Here is what happens in the movie. These are probably spoilers, in the sense that I am telling you plot details, but I don’t think that knowing them will affect your appreciation for the film (or lack thereof) in any significant way.
Jennifer (Camille Keaton) is a writer who has retired to a small, backwoods town in order to work on her next novel or whatever. She enjoys the town, noticing a few men who notice her in turn. They notice her cleavage, they notice her wearing a two-piece bathing suit while lying in a hammock by the lake. They chase her into the woods, tear off her swimsuit, and one of the men forces himself on her while the others hold her down. Naked, sobbing and scared, she stumbles deeper into the woods.
It’s not long before she meets up with the four men again. They have gotten ahead of her and are waiting to assault her once more. She tries to run, but the men hold her down on top of a rock while one of them sodomizes her. She screams bloody murder. It is a chilling moment. When they leave, she is too broken to move.
When Jennifer regains consciousness, she crawls back to her secluded cabin in the woods and tries to call the police. It’s difficult, as she has lost her voice from her cries of terror and pain. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that the four men are now inside her house. One of them kicks the phone from her hands and begins to kick and beat her. One of the men, after Jennifer pleads with him to leave her alone due to the pain, rapes her with a bottle while beating her and demanding that she perform fellatio on him. The men leave her house, with the assumption that their mentally-challenged fourth participant has murdered the girl.
After some recovery, Jennifer goes out to seek revenge!
Didn’t that last sentence kind of ruin everything that had come before? Didn’t the movie seem like a horrific nightmare of epic proportions, only to turn into some kind of faux-female-empowerment exploitation flick at the end? Yes, yes it did.
And THAT is the film’s most grievous mistake, in my opinion. The rape scenes were — what other synonym can I use? — absolutely repulsive. The camera watches the events unfold without much movement. There is no musical score behind the action. All of the performers are unknowns. Despite some poor production values that resulted in bad sound and lighting, the bulk of the movie manages to come across as an unflinching look at a twisted, violent act. The crime seems unprovoked, save for the excuses that Jennifer wrangles out of the perpetrators; excuses such as:
“It was [Name]’s idea! I didn’t want to do any of it!”
“You were asking for it, with the way you were dressed!”
It is sickening. Really. When Jennifer screams, it is loud and seemingly sincere. The fact that she gets abused repeatedly makes I Spit on Your Grave hard to stomach at times. I can understand how one could see the movie and believe that it is glorifying violence against women. After all, even though the men receive some form of “payback” in the end, does it really do justice to what torment Jennifer had to go through? Do we the audience really get any sort of vindication from Jennifer’s hurried vengeance? Does she?
It is precisely because of the second half, which trades in true terror for generic slasher pic cliches, that I Spit On Your Grave gets so much flack. It’s as though the rapes were just meant as a way of showing a chick get naked, as though the filmmakers honestly thought that they were providing a little T&A and then some good ol’ fashioned fun by way of a few revenge-tinged murders.
I don’t think it’s wrong to show violent acts such as this on film, and I must admit that I was completely absorbed in the film’s first half. You could say that using rape for entertainment purposes is terrible, and I would generally say that that is a reasonable position to take. But then, is there no place for the Holocaust movies like Schindler’s List or disaster movies like Titanic? Are these given a free pass because they’re based on actual events? Does that make it somehow less exploitative because we fondly remember the real victims at the end of the movie?
I do think that the ending of this movie hurt it tremendously, turning a monstrous and nerve-wracking experience into a cheap thriller. Zarchi and his collaborators deserve whatever scorn is heaped upon them for that — for turning a brutal rape into a stupid joke. But I don’t think the fact of the rape is enough to demonize the film: it’s an almost traumatizing scene that, whether intentional or not, is EXTREMELY effective in terms of emotional impact.
I don’t know. Maybe it is an unforgivable movie anyway.