This is one hell of a difficult film. Originally entitled ‘Day of the Woman’ and supposedly written as a response to a real rape and the subsequent poor treatment of the victim by the police, it seems at first as though this is all meant to be an empowering experience: a brutal tale of bittersweet revenge; the just-desserts of evil men, served by the lone woman strong enough to survive; a battle cry from the Feminist corner.
So why did film critic Roger Ebert hail I Spit On Your Grave as the ‘worst film of all time’? And why did he brand it a ‘geek show’? Having read of his experience watching the film on it’srelease, in a movie theatre brimming with what sound like angry perverts, it’s no wonder he didn’t have a great time. But no matter where you are or who you’re watching this with, it’s nigh on impossible to enjoy yourself.
Many people’s knowledge of I Spit On Your Grave extends to knowing the title and the fact that it’s really horrible. Which it is, and which information, for many, should suffice.
The basics, however, are as follows: city gal Jennifer Hills takes a trip out to the sticks to get some writing done. It’s not long before she is attacked by four local men; she’s repeatedly raped, badly beaten, and left for dead. The remainder of the film sees Jennifer exact her revenge on the perpetrators of these hideous crimes, often employing a mixture sexual flirtation and brutal violence.
Ok. So what’s the problem? Aside from the film being made on no budget, suffering from terrible editing, abysmal sound, and a poor script, there’s still plenty to find wrong with this picture.
Is it really empowering for this woman, having suffered terribly at the hands of these men, to go forth kill them all? Is this supposed to make her feel better? I get that this is meant to be an extreme view, a nightmare scenario for all involved, but any high ideals quickly go out the window as the film descends into callous violence, merely to shock us. For example: that one of the attackers, Matthew, has mental health problems does nothing to suggest the susceptibility of weaker men to the demands of those seen to be more powerful, even though Johnny, the strongest, was once a marine. Instead, Matthew’s lack of control is just another tick in the box that tells us this movie is going to be more messed up, more grotesque, and certainly far more horrific than anything else around.
Yes it’s violent. And yes, someone gets castrated in a bathtub. But yes, you do get to see the female lead swan around in the nude a lot, both before and after her gruelling ordeal. And yes, you are supposed to be waiting for her to get raped – it’s what the film’s all about, right? Isn’t it empowering?! I don’t know.
It’s possible that I Spit On Your Grave was made with the best intentions and that it fails in its attempts to strike a blow for the victims of sexual violence simply because of the film-makers glaring inexperience in plotting, scripting, directing, editing and acting in films. Maybe that’s what makes it not quite the worst film of all time.
Roger Ebert was right about one thing though: this is without doubt a geek show, and that’s surely the only reason why people keep watching it.