This is my first update to this blog in over a year, and the last post I made was a silly one about bloody Sharknado. I couldn’t very well let my last words be dedicated to Sharknado now, could I? In my defence, it’s been a crazy year for me. I have recently completed my PhD thesis, meaning that I will soon be Dr Alice. It was very stressful and very time consuming, and I am happy to say that it is now very OVER, meaning I can dedicate my time to more important things, like horror movies.
I wanted to mark my return with a film I saw pretty recently: I Spit on Your Grave aka Day of the Woman. I’ve decided to cite this as the film that changed my mind about something, partly because I refuse to give up on that bloody meme I started way back when and partly because I really did judge this film before seeing it for the first time.
I’d heard people talking about this film with contempt, saying that the prolonged rape scene was nothing more than exploitation, and that it had no artistic merit. I really didn’t have any desire to see it at all. However, I then heard one of the hosts of a horror podcast I listen to saying that he would never let any female friend of his watch it because it would be too disturbing for them. I am obnoxious, so this immediately provoked me into wanting to see it just to be defiant. I also heard the story of how the director, Meir Zarchi was inspired to make the film. He and a friend came across a woman who had been badly beaten and raped, and they took her to the police. The officer was dismissive of her and showed no regard for her extensive injuries, until Zarchi insisted that they go to the hospital. The incident showed him how little justice rape victims get through the legal system and that they were not allowed to have a voice or take back any power. With this in mind, I decided that I should give the film a chance, and I’m really glad that I did.
The plot is fairly basic. Jennifer (Camille Keaton) is a New York writer who rents a house in the country so that she can complete her novel. While there she is targeted by a group of local men, Johnny, Matthew, Stanley and Andy. They attack her while she relaxes in her canoe, repeatedly rape and beat her, and leave her for dead. After she recovers, she systematically tracks them down and brutally exacts her revenge.
Make no mistake, the film is not an easy watch. The rape scenes are protracted and unrelenting. After the initial assault, Jennifer stumbles away through the forest where the men ambush her again, beat and sodomise her. She crawls home with the intention of calling for help, only to find that the men have beaten her there. They mock her and beat her again before a final sexual assault. They leave, sending the mentally disabled Matthew back inside with a knife to finish the job. He can’t face it however, wipes blood on the blade and tells his friends that Jennifer is dead. The whole thing is harrowing. But you know what? Good. Rape is a brutal and disgusting crime, and hard as it is to stomach, it’s good that the film accurately portrays that. I find films that throw in a rape for pure shock value or as a side-note to be far more offensive. Yes, Jennifer is naked but it is not shown in an exploitive or eroticised way, and the men appear naked as well. In fact, the actors insisted on it to show support for Camille Keaton. It’s an honest portrayal of an horrific crime.
There is one element of the revenge section of the film that I find slightly problematic and that is when Jennifer seduces and has sex with Matthew before killing him. I’ve heard people argue that Matthew was never really complicit in the crime due to his mental disability, but I disagree. Although he seemed reluctant, he still stayed throughout the rape, watched, and was finally goaded into participation. He couldn’t murder Jennifer, but he didn’t help her either. My problem is why she would have sex with him; I just didn’t buy that any woman would do that, no matter how hardened she had become. Making the men lower their guard through seduction, as she does so brilliantly with Johnny, is a different matter and quite understandable. Jennifer cannot compete with the men in terms of brute strength, so she uses the thing they exploited in order to exploit them in return.
There are two scenes that really stand out to me. The first takes place after Jennifer has recovered from her attack where she goes to a church to pray for forgiveness for what she is about to do. There are several things that I love about this scene. Firstly there is Jennifer’s attempts to resume her old life. She attempts to return to her manuscript, but she can’t. The woman she used to be is dead and there is no going back. She is shown driving past a cemetery on her way to the church, which I took as being both a foreshadowing of what is to come and symbolic of the end of Jennifer’s old life. The church scene is peaceful and beautiful, and a nice lull in between the violence of the first and third acts.
The second scene is Johnny’s murder. At first it seems that Jennifer only intended to take him to a remote location and shoot him, but then Johnny makes the mistake of goading her, telling her that she brought the rape on herself and wanted it to happen. She changes tack, pretending to agree with him and inviting him back to her house where she joins him in a bath and castrates him, leaving him to bleed out. I love how calm she is throughout. She takes her time fixing her hair, laughing with him, telling him that she killed Matthew which he of course thinks is a joke, so that when she finally attacks he doesn’t even realise what has happened until she has already escaped. Then she puts on some music to drown out his screams and serenely sits in her rocking chair to wait for the end. It’s incredibly chilling but, I thought, very satisfying. I especially enjoyed the shots of her cleaning up the blood afterwards.
Overall, I’m really glad I gave this film a chance. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it is a feminist film, but it has artistic merit, and makes a very strong sociological statement which, sadly, is still all too applicable today.