I Spit On Your Grave

Yeah sure, it features brutal scenes of gang rape, castration and shotguns being stuck in places they really don't belong... but is I Spit On Your Grave offensive?
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Yeah sure, it features brutal scenes of gang rape, castration and shotguns being stuck in places they really don't belong... but is I Spit On Your Grave offensive?

So, this will presumably be fairly obvious from the title but, in case you weren’t sure, this film is definitely not a romcom… Instead it’s a remake of the notorious 1978 video nasty of the same name about a young woman who is brutally raped by a gang of buck-toothed rednecks but then returns to wreak a terrible revenge.

The original was widely reviled, with Roger Ebert (basically The Pope of film criticism) writing:

“This movie is an expression of the most diseased and perverted  human nature… I walked out of the theatre quickly, feeling unclean, ashamed and depressed.”

That quote was gleefully reproduced in the film’s press release, like some kind of badge of honour. Although it’s worth noting that in the same review, Ebert goes on to describe it as:

“a film without a shred of artistic distinction. It lacks even simple craftsmanship. There is no possible motive for exhibiting it, other than the totally cynical hope that it might make money.”

They didn’t really mention that bit though…

Hilariously, the press release also talks about the "conviction and courage” it has taken to bring this controversial remake to the screen. Yeah, if only Gandhi had had the same conviction and courage – think how much further he could have pushed the whole ‘peace’ thing.

The new film stars Sarah Butler as Jennifer, a confident and beautiful writer who retreats to a cabin in the woods to begin work on her latest novel. I have a bit of a problem with how glamorous and even pleasurable they make the process of writing look. We see various shots of Jennifer sitting out on her veranda, Chardonnay in hand, happily batting words into her pristine MacBook with a gratingly self-satisfied look on her face. At no point do we see her hunched tearfully over a keyboard at 5am having spent the previous eight hours predominantly looking at other people’s Facebook photos and reading irrelevant articles on Wikipedia, returning occasionally to a blank Microsoft Word document to shriek, “Oh just literally write something – anything – you prick! You fucking worthless prick!!”

But anyway...

Sarah runs into trouble one day when she stops at a petrol station to ask directions from the forecourt attendants working there. They follow her home and subject her to a long night of vicious humiliation and gang rape. (That, by anyone’s standards, is a totally unacceptable level of customer service. You wouldn’t even get that at an Esso...) Before the gang can finish her off, Jennifer escapes, diving off a bridge into the creek far below. When she doesn’t surface, they assume she must have drowned and go back to their normal lives unperturbed.

However, Jennifer has survived and returns to hunt each of her tormentors down, subjecting them to gruesome Saw-style retribution. One man has his penis hacked off, another is lowered face-first into an acid bath and the unfortunate leader has a shotgun inserted into a place that even the most ardent Second Amendment activist would probably want to see it banned from..

The film has once again been the subject of intense debate as to whether it is exploitative misogyny or an empowering feminist fantasy. The journalist and feminist campaigner Julie Bindel  (who tends to take a fairly strong line on this kind of thing) reckons it’s basically fine. With only an estimated 14% of sexual assaults currently leading to a conviction, the fictional revenge meted out in ISOYG, where the emblems of masculine hegemony are symbolically removed (and then stuffed down someone's throat) is “something men should fear”.

The British Board of Film Classification, however, disagreed and insisted that a number of scenes be removed. Now, normally I wouldn’t be in favour of this kind of censorship - my granddad fought the Nazis in World War Two with the specific intention that I would one day be able to go to the cinema and stare mindlessly at gratuitous scenes of torture-porn grot. However, when you look at the BBFC ruling in more detail, which calls for the rape scene to be recut in order to remove “shots of nudity that tend to eroticise sexual violence” it’s kind of fair enough. Call me a moralizing old buzzkill, but I don’t think you should really be allowed to watch depictions of rape that you might find titillating or erotic. And I definitely don’t think you should be allowed to do it while sitting next to me in an Odeon.

In many ways, I’m not sure the cuts went far enough. The camera still seems to linger over Jennifer’s nude body during these scenes in a way that does feel inappropriately eroticised. Obviously most normal people watching this will be rightly appalled and disgusted, to be sure. However, I think that a truly determined wanker would still be able to eke out at least a partial boner, if he really put his mind to it..

However, for me, far more offensive than any of that was this guy..

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..who plays the “retarded” member of the gang and is a surefire candidate for this year’s Gigli award for most crassly insensitive portrayal of a mental disability. And he’s called Matthew… What?! Fuck off!! Why are they always called fucking Matthew? It’s a stereotype and it’s offensive.

And for that reason, my lords, I find this film to be obscene.