Talking about lazy titling. Rather than I Spit On Your Grave 2, couldn’t it have been I Piss On You Grave, I Take A Dump On Your Grave or I Leave The Rotting Corpses Of Dead Woodland Animals On You Grave? In fact it could have had a completely different title altogether, as except for having a similar premise, it’s not really linked to the first film (which itself was a remake of Meir Zarchi’s 1978 cult flick) at all.
Katie (Jemma Dallender) is a wannabe model in New York, who’s having a tough time getting anyone to notice her. When an Eastern European photographer, Ivan (Joe Absolom), offers to take some shots of her for free, she jumps at the chance, but backs out when it becomes apparent he’s really after some nudie pics.
Not long afterwards Katie wakes up to find Ivan’s brother, Georgy (Yavor Baharov), taking pictures of her in her sleep. This starts a nightmare where he ties her up, stabs her friend to death and rapes her. The ordeal doesn’t end there as Georgy’s brothers decide they can’t leave her in the apartment to tell the cops what happened, so they smuggle her out of the US to be a tortured sex slave in Bulgaria. Eventually she manages to escape and, as you’d expect from an I Spit On Your Grave movie, takes her revenge.
The original 1978 I Spit On Your Grave is vilified by some as a cruel, nasty movie about the degradation of a woman. However as the original title, The Day Of The Woman, suggests, the attack is about showing how horrible and disgusting the objectification of women is when taken to the extreme, with the rest of the movie about the woman reclaiming her power by taking revenge on the men. Even the infamous scene where she chops off one of the men’s penises isn’t about trying to shock, it’s about her destroying the thing that tried to destroy her.
The remake paid lip service to that idea, while feeling rather more tacky and interested in the torture rather than any subtext behind it. I Spit On Your Grave 2 meanwhile seems to be going through the motions on the attacked woman getting her revenge, as it’s more interested in just how nasty it can be. And boy does it want to be nasty – to get an 18 certificate in the UK, 27 cuts had to be made, mainly due to scenes of sexual violence. Even with all that taken out, what remains is far from nice.
It’s difficult to escape the sense that in the first part of the film, it’s as much revelling in the attack on Katie as it is showing how horrible it is. It leaves Zarchi’s unexpectedly feminist ideas behind and instead wants us to revel in (and wince at) how much cruelty a woman can be made to suffer. By the time it gets to the revenge part it feels almost like an afterthought. It vaguely tries to be even handed, with the nastiness Katie dishes out attempting to match what was done to her, but it’s all done a little too fast and late, while the very end is a tad unfinished.
As male genital mutilation is one of I Spit On Your Grave’s motifs, the ending mainly seems to revolve around that, giving new meaning to having someone’s balls in a vice (the film seems to think that idea is rather clever, without realising the very phrase, ‘she’s got your balls in a vice’ has sexist undertones).
There’s an occasional effort to make this a proper film with actual characters, but only so it’s got something to do between bouts of nastiness for the sake of nastiness. It doesn’t help that important things go unexplained, from how Katie got from the US to Bulgaria to how she manages to leave a police station to exactly where she is when she escapes being buried alive. But that’s the problem, I Spit On Your Grave 2 just wants the horrible situations and doesn’t care so much about anything that goes on around that. Even what could have been some interesting twists end up being more perplexing than involving.
It’s a shame, as 1978’s I Spit On Your Grave was a brave twist on the horror genre, trying to reclaim it from the male gaze. It’s often been misunderstood because it’s so different to what you usually see. However this sequel to a remake has devolved back into torture porn and how much unpleasantness can be heaped on a sexually exploited woman. Even the revenge feels more about the men than what it means for the woman.
In fact, at times it’s difficult to escape the feeling that this has gone full circle into full-on sexist territory, even if inadvertently. Things such as Katie being watched by her dying male friend hint at ideas that worse than being attacked and raped is to have a man see it, as well as making it unclear whether we’re meant to feel worse for Katie or for the man forced to see what’s happening. Likewise when Katie decides a female character is the ‘worst of all’, there’s no doubt she’s talking about a horrible woman, but she’s only worse in a sexist world where a woman being complicit in what men do is wickeder than doing it yourself. I don’t think the film intends to come across this way – indeed at times it seems to think it’s doing the opposite. However muddy thinking on what sex and gender roles mean, as well as an apparent inability to realise its own sexist leanings rather undermine it.
Overall Verdict: A film that’s all about how nasty it can be, ignoring the feminist leanings of Zarchi’s original film in order to see how much degradation it can put a woman through, and then how it can make the revenge all about the rapist men.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac