Film Review: ‘I Spit on Your Grave 2’

Dennis Harvey
Variety

Steven R. Monroe’s 2010 remake of the enduring 1978 cult hit “I Spit on Your Grave” was surprisingly strong, so it’s disappointing that this sequel — from the same director, although definitely not the same scenarists — should prove exactly the kind of bottom-feeding exploitation trash one expected the last time around. Rotely cribbing elements of “Hostel” and “Taken” to put another heroine through the gang-rape/near-fatal-beating mill, it’s a dreary affair that will thrill undiscriminating fans of torture-porn horror and nobody else. An “unrated version” launches an exclusive Los Angeles engagement Sept. 20, with various rollouts to follow in different territories. Theatrical exposure will likely again be minor, home-format sales hale.

The first “Spit” (originally released as “Day of the Woman,” and a flop until reissued under the more lurid title) was loathed by many, notably Roger Ebert. But there was a certain unsettling simplicity to its tale of a young city woman, seeking peace in the countryside, who is viciously assaulted by yokels, then (barely) survives to wreak methodical revenge. Whether it was his intent or not, writer-director Meir Zarchi (credited as an executive producer on the newer films) struck a chord among others who found the film feminist in its crude way. Certainly at the time, it could be read as both a critique of impotent male rage at “women’s lib,” and as a reversal of horror norms allowing the female victim to brutalize her tormentors in return. The remake kept that basic outline, with class/gender resentment toward the attractive, educated, “privileged” female interloper in an insular rural community again justifying (for the perps) her extreme abuse.

I Spit on Your Grave 2″ immediately announces it doesn’t understand (or care about) the value of that template, making its heroine an aspiring Manhattan model — as opposed to the aspiring writer of the first two films, removing any issue of her intellect being a threat. Told her portfolio needs upgrading, Katie (Jemma Dallender) has a session with a photographer, Ivan (Joe Absolom), which she ends abruptly when he suggests she take her clothes off. We’ve already gone “uh-oh!” the second that Ivan answers the phone in a Russian-sounding accent. Actually it’s Bulgarian — but if thrillers of the last decade have taught us anything, it’s that every former Soviet territory is an earthly hell preying upon corn-fed American innocents.

Also present at the shoot were Ivan’s comrades, vaguely sleazy layabout Nicolay (Aleksandar Aleksiev) and seemingly harmless simpleton Georgy (Yavor Baharoff). Yet it’s Georgy who later shows up uninvited at Katie’s flat, savagely binds, beats and rapes her, and kills the nice building super (Michael Dixon) who intervenes. Called to the scene, Georgy’s mates realize there’s no salvaging this situation without breaking at least a few more laws.

Next thing we know, Katie wakes up chained to a dank basement mattress in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia; somehow, she was transported all this way unconscious in a trunk. Now revealing their true, inherently evil Eastern European nature, the perps violate her some more before she manages to escape. Unfortunately (and improbably), one supposed rescuer turns out to be a dragon lady (Mary Stockley) in cahoots with the bad guys. More rape and beating ensue, including a sequence in which Katie is tasered endlessly with special attention paid to her intimate parts. (By the pic’s fadeout, one can only marvel that the filmmakers really, really have a thing for genital punishment.) At last the tables are turned, and rather than going to the police or the American embassy, Katie morphs into a resourceful, arse-whupping avenger, delivering major pain while repeating back the “I know you want this, heh heh” drivel her assailants had spouted previously. So ironic!

The script by Neil Elman and Thomas Fenton, whose bleak prior credits include something called “Mongolian Death Worm,” is a threadbare string of cliches on which to hang various forms of torture. Where Monroe’s 2010 remake preserved some of the original’s eerie, primal austerity, “I Spit on Your Grave 2″ is just a hot mess, from the villainous stereotypes to the cheesy disco synth score to the Bulgarians speaking English to each other for no logical reason.

Gore and nastiness are plentiful, but they’re just wearyingly gratuitous rather than truly shocking. There is definitely something amiss when, amid depiction of so much grievous bodily harm, your mind drifts to how silly the lead thesp’s repertoire of screams and whimpers often sounds. While Dallender is indeed out of her depth, admittedly no more practiced actress could likely have lent this enterprise gravitas.

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