The battle of original vs. remake continues!
(Some gory images below)
This is the point where my misgivings with the remake fell to distaste. Quite simply, there is no recovery scene in the remake.
In the original, we have a lot of time devoted to showing Jennifer’s painful recovery. Not that she recovers back to her sunny disposition, but we stick with her. We’re still siding with her.
The remake offers nothing. Jennifer is raped, falls off a bridge and the film sticks with the men. It’s a given that she’ll show up to get her revenge, but there is no time spent with her, recuperating alongside her.
Instead, she becomes the new villain of the film. The first scene is with Jonny, the main rapist at his home. He hears strange noises outside, and goes to investigate. We know it’s Jennifer, because we’re not a dumb audience, but the film actively tries to make you feel tense at his plight – the man who instigated a gang rape of a defenceless girl.
There was an old school of thought from feminist film scholars that said women in films who get revenge after being wronged invariably get turned into monstrous characters. It’s a largely bullshit theory, and there is tons of proof in feminist film that proves it as so. Until this remake came along, and played that theory straight.
Following that above scene with Jonny, we get another regrouping of the men, as their crime comes closer to being made public. For instance, we’re meant to feel tension that the Sherriff’s wife received a tape with the entire rape on it – but oh, luckily it’s a DV tape and doesn’t fit inside her VCR. We’re meant to feel relief at this, and it’s disgusting that the film is trying to do it.
Which brings us to:
The original makes it clear that the only way Jennifer is going to regain some control in her life is to kill the men who raped her. Given what we see her put through in the rape scenes, we also arrive at the same logical conclusion.
Her revenges are to-the-point and opportunistic. She lures Matthew into the woods and seduces him. More to the point (which will be discussed later) she allows him to have sex with her, and the moment he climaxes, slips a noose around his head and hangs him. That she has set a rope in a tree to hang him with is as elaborate as her revenge goes. For the rest of the men, it’s pretty straightforward – she seduces Jonny with a hot bath, and castrates him, locking him in their to bleed out. The third rapist (Andy) gets chopped in the neck with an axe, and Stanley (the most vicious of the rapists, one who in fact rapes her with a wine bottle) gets chopped up with the propeller blades of a boat.
The remake cranks it up to ridiculous level. She stalks the men first, and kidnaps Matthew after he falls down a set of stairs. He tries to apologise to her, but she won’t have it, and strangles him. Then she takes Andy and Stanley at the same time. In the remake, Stanley films her entire rape – she gets her revenge on him by leading him into a bear trap, knocking him out, tying him to a tree with electrical tape, setting up a video camera to film him, shoving a rat into his mouth which makes him vomit all over himself, putting fish hooks in his eyes so they’re held open (get it? – cos he likes to watch) then she throws fish guts on him and leaves him for the crows. Stanley has a long, drawn out, painful death.
Oh, and for added fun, Stanley is Damian from Mean Girls!
Andy gets knocked out and positioned above a bathtub, hands tied behind his back. Jennifer then fills the tub with water and adds some lye, turning it into an acid bath. She knocks out one of his supports, which means her has to hold himself up, when only his legs are braced. Naturally he can’t, so he keeps on dipping back into the acid bath and slowly melts away.
She returns to the service station where Jonny works and knocks him out. He awakes chained up in a barn, naked, with a bit in his mouth, ironically echoing the whole “show horse” treatment he gave her. She then extracts a few of his teeth with crude pliers. Despite this treatment, he is defiant, screaming “fuck you” at her and still revelling in the fact that he raped her, even telling her she “wasn’t a good blowjob” – which she responds to by hacking his dick off with some hedge clippers and shoving it in his mouth. In short, Johnny dies screaming.
The remake spends a little time with the Sherriff’s family – he has a wife and a bright daughter. Jennifer pretends to be the girl’s teacher and kidnaps her (though the movie glosses over this), which then leads the Sherriff going in search of her, only to be abducted by Jennifer. Now the Sherriff is the most brutal rapist in this film, making a point of anally raping her, and being an all out complete monster. She takes her particular revenge against him by raping him with his shotgun, screaming the same things at him that he did at her when he was raping her.
She then leaves, but not before revealing that Matthew is still alive. She’s rigged up a string to the trigger on the still-inserted shotgun, and she puts it on Matthew’s hands. Given that he’s retarded, when he wakes up and sees the trussed-up and shotgunically-penetrated Sherriff in front of him, he jumps back – which pulls the trigger, shooting a shotgun blast on through the Sherriff’s body and into Matthew.
The film then closes on a shot of Jennifer as she Kubrick stares the shit out of the camera, and the DVD has the audacity to call the preceding chapter “Day of the Woman” in a nod to the title and intent of the original film.
I can tell you that while arguing the purpose of the revenge scenes in either film is a little moot, that the revenge in the remake is just ridiculous and unrealistic. Jennifer’s actions in the original are understandable, and we completely sympathise with her, because we’ve spent time feeling as devastated as she does, and sending time with her through the recovery process.
The remake, in denying us any post-rape time with Jennifer, does sadly make her into a monstrous character. In denying us much time with her during the rapes (it opts for the “character blacks out with the screen” option, and she wakes up after the act) it means we don’t get a sense of just how bad her trauma is. It’s hardly pleasant watching her get raped, but – as reprehensible as this feels to type – you can’t help but feel the rapists don’t deserve cruelty as harsh as what she deals out (except maybe the Sherriff) because the film just hasn’t spent any time allowing us to feel for Jennifer.
Plus her actions of revenge are just so far over the top! Jennifer in the original had a sense of urgency about her actions – she just wants revenge in the form of their deaths – quick and easy. The remake has Jennifer prolong their suffering so much that she actually comes off as the worst offender. Taking the rape of a defenceless woman by five men and having that not the worst act in the film is very, very reprehensible.
“This woman has just cut, chopped, broken and burned five men beyond recognition. But no jury in America would ever convict her!”
That’s the tagline for the original film despite Jennifer never burning anyone, and there only being four rapists in it. The remake seems to have been made to largely correct these two errors, and through the faults or insensitivities of the filmmakers, the remake leaves you with the impression that a jury in America would definitely convict her.
They’d take about 5 minutes to decide.
But perhaps this is an area where people will disagree? Do we face a hung jury? Well let’s take a look at the character who’s role is essentially a personification of the term “grey area:”
Matthew is the disabled character who serves as something of a litmus test of morality in the movies. Unlike the other men, Matthew has some genuine affection for Jennifer.
In the original he’s played by Richard Pace who would go on to star in a hit series of nothing. He gives a bit of a decent performance, but as I said in the first review, he comes off seeming, in hindsight, a bit like Jimmy from South Park. That doesn’t mean he’s funny, but it’s the kind of portrayal where you still believe he’s aware of what’s going on around him – he’s a bit slow, but he still has a sense of awareness about him.
In the remake, he’s played by Chad Lindberg, who’s made a career out of playing nervous characters – Jesse from The Fast and The Furious probably one of the more popular ones. Lindberg’s portrayal is of the more “severe” type of disability – he’s nervous and skittish, and instead of playing it a bit “goofy” like Pace, Matthew in the remake is a character who you feel could be a real liability.
In both versions, Matthew meets Jennifer innocently enough. In the original he delivers her some groceries, in the remake, he fixes her backed up toilet. In the original, Jennifer talks to him not condescendingly, but playfully – you understand why he’d be so drawn to her. In the remake, once he gets the plumbing working again, she kisses him as a thankyou, and it notably disturbs him. He still goes away with a crush, but you have no sense of the fondness he must have for her…
Where it gets interesting is within the rape itself.*
In the original, Matthew is very reluctant to even participate, but you get a real sense that he wants to be “one of the guys” as much as he can. The first two times she’s raped, he has no part of it whatsoever. He is the third rapist, and while he enjoys it for a little while (which is actually an effectively disturbing shots – his leering face is filmed incredibly close up to make it all the more obvious that this is what Jennifer’s seeing) he can’t actually keep it up with the other men watching.
In the remake, Matthew is actually the first man to rape her, and he sees it through until he climaxes. He’s then emotionally tortured by what he’s done – he sees flashes of her in the woods around him and he’s wrecked by his actions.
When Jennifer confronts him in the original, he meets her with the intention of killing her – he takes a knife, he threatens her, he bemoans that everything was fine until she came along. Jennifer seduces him, and allows him to climax – a point she then uses to belittle Jonny before she kills him. However, Jennifer kills Matthew unapologetically, and it’s made pretty clear that even though you could cry diminished capacity, Matthew still deserves his retribution.
In the remake, Matthew breaks down and apologises from the bottom of his heart through some convincing anguish. Jennifer actually absolves him of responsibility, and she encourages him to lie his head in her lap while he cries. She doesn’t so much act like she’s trying to seduce him, like in the original, but more like a stern mother doling out stern-but-fair discipline. That is until she slips a noose around his neck and strangles him, screaming “Tell me again how sorry you are!” and yelling at him that it’s just not good enough.
It’s an unsettling scene, because of how cruel she’s being to a disabled boy, and played as it is, the cruelty of his treatment at Jennifer’s hands makes you forget that he is in fact, the first rapist of the film.
The kicker comes when the Sherriff has his fate rest solely in Matthew’s twitchy hands. When you see Matthew alive at the end of the film you think maybe he’s become Jennifer’s moral compass, and that she’s going to spare him despite what he did to her. Despite his complicity in the rape, you do feel sorry for him. But to then have him die at the hands of a gunshot blast which he inadvertently causes just seems like it’s kicking a dog in the gut until it bleeds to death.
Why the focus on Matthew?
Matthew is the character that I believe sets the original film above a standard rape/revenge film, and his presence also suggests to me that the film never intended Jennifer to be a clear-cut victim-taking-revenge character.
In either film, you do question his culpability in the rape. You do feel sorry for him, because he genuinely liked Jennifer and doesn’t see her as a piece of meat like the other men. And because of this, you do feel uncomfortable (morally, I mean) at Jennifer murdering him.
Where it gets me is that I have much more sympathy for the remake’s Matthew, despite him being the more violent of the two. Simple truth is, he does rape her, and he does see it through, and he doesn’t actively do that much to help her afterwards. But he comes off as much more tormented, and on a personal level. The original Matthew, while probably the less-guilty of the two, acts out of fear of what that the other men will do to him if they find her alive, and while his eventual death is unsettling, it doesn’t make you feel as sorry for him as the remake does.
Now my lasting impression of the remake is that it’s a nasty film, and quite tawdry at that. I think the remake is effectively the film that the controversy around the original thought that film was. I truly believe the original film is misguided, and had the makings of a better film than it turned out to be. I think the remake is an attempt to update an unpleasant viewing experience, but done for all the wrong reasons. And I think that in taking the “grey area” character, refashioning his involvement in the crime and making it worse than in the original, and then having his later treatment played overwhelmingly sympathetic to a point you feel really sorry for him, the filmmakers of the remake have made a decidedly misogynistic film.
So who won the war?
But it’s not just a case of the traditional film buff preferences for an original as opposed to a remake.
I actually think the remake is a better-made film, and it doesn’t have the budgetary problems so evident in the original. The acting is better in the remake, the Matthew conundrum is much more complex in the remake and the effects are a lot more convincing.
But I believe the purpose of a remake is to update the original while staying tonally similar. The 2010 version of I Spit on Your Grave is decidedly unsympathetic to women, whereas that was the major concern behind the original. The original is a horrible film that you can see some good intent in. The remake is a horrible film, just with a shinier coat of gloss over its horrible parts.
*I’m going to hell for writing that sentence.