Tuesday, February 26, 2013

In Which I Try To Get Some Reader Feedback and then OH GOD

Well, this review's a bit later in coming than I planned.

This is partially for a couple of reasons. Alongside some general reservations with the topic for this one, I've also been mulling over a couple of points regarding this blog in general.

So before we get into this review, I'd like to ask you guys to bear with me for a moment, especially since, to be honest, I'd kind of appreciate feedback on one of these talking points.  After that, we can get right into this one which is...Hell, I'm still trying to work this one out.

Anyway, I find myself weighing over a decision at this point - without going too much into details to belabor a point, earlier this year I was struck with an idea for a possible retrospective project, focusing on a particular director.

There's a bit of a snare with this particular director, however - while he's done some movie work, a good chunk of his efforts have been on television (and given several of the films tied in to works he did for TV, to just review the films themselves feels like it'd be an ultimately incomplete exercise.)

Now, I'd contemplated, in the interests of keeping this blog film-related, opening up a secondary blog for other related media writings. But at the same time, there's a part of me that feels like it'd be a bit extraneous.

So, I'm going to throw it to the mercy of the mob and ask you guys for feedback:
1) Open the perimeters of this blog to discuss media in general beyond just film, resulting in more content on a more varied basis
2) Keep with film, but still pursue other forms of media in another side-project.

Feel free to cast your votes via comments, or if you cross my path via other means, that will also be acceptable.

The other main point before I get to this review (and I promise this one isn't stalling, but rather a recent development that I feel merits some manner of comment.)

Two weeks back marked our first foray in a long while in dabbling in using video to supplement reviews...which also reminded me why I don't do it that often.  I.E., yesterday, I got slapped with a notice for copyright violation for the use of the clips from the movie Smiley (something which I don't regret...both because I have my own beefs with how freely modern copyright is abused by the entertainment industry, and, I will admit, because I do have some spite towards the movie.)

Now, I could go on a full rant about my above mentioned concerns with copyright, but that's a topic for another time and not what you came here for.

So, in another bid to get some feedback from you guys, let's turn this into another two-part question:
-Keep trying to work video into some of these, copyright be damned?
-If yes, any recommendations on reliable video services to host the clips on?  Cause Blogger tends to crap its pants whenever I tend to upload, and YouTube's zeal for seeking out and clamping down even the slightest hint of copyright violation (while missing copious violations otherwise) is just too ridiculous to leave me inclined to do much business with them.

That's right. I'm trying to passive-aggressively force some sign of interaction with you guys.

Now that that's out of the way, let's get back to the review, shall we?

Looking over this month, February seems to be the time of year where I'm now turning into a cinematic flagellist.  The films I've covered this month have either been downright terrible, or had merit while being downright unpleasant to watch.  The results have made for interesting writing at least, but I may need to do some serious cinematic pallet cleansing when this is all over.

This goes especially for this week's entry.

Given last entry marked our revisiting of a film we'd already discussed in brief in the past, Meir Zarchi's original I Spit on Your Grave, I felt I should try and do something else this time around to build on the review.  Initially, I had contemplated giving a similar revisit/fleshing out to the also inappropriate for Valentine's Day movie, Antichrist.  I may still do this again next year, but this time around, another option came to mind.  In that I was reminded that the movie was remade in 2010, with mixed reception, by director Steven R. Monroe (known for such cinematic gems as Wyvern, Ice Twisters, Mongolian Death Worm, and The 12 Disasters of Christmas.)

Now, this actually made an interesting challenge for me - given my often mixed reactions towards the idea of remakes, and in particular in the realm of horror, could I honestly give this movie its fair due?  I tried.  I REALLY tried.  I'd like to believe I maybe even succeeded, but that will be for you guys to decide.

Anyway, I'll start by saying this movie actually kind of caught me off guard.  Mostly in the sense that I was going in expecting to be disappointed.  I realize that's a pretty bad attitude to have in a review out of the gate, but given the general school of thought with horror remakes in the past decade have had, and the controversial nature of the original in this case, can I truly be blamed for having some SERIOUS reservations with this one?

This isn't to say the original is necessarily sacrosanct either.  It does have its problems, some of which survived into this movie as well, and admittedly, some of these points I didn't go into as much in the prior review.  I will do what I can to address them here as well, in particular since they do tend to lead into some of the areas this movie does have going for it.  But that's getting ahead of myself.

I'm not sure if it's by intent or not, but the fact even at the start she has this '...this is not going to go well, is it?' look on her face is somehow fitting.

Though the fact this is the guy welcoming her may have something to do with that.

The story, largely, remains the same as it did in the original feature - writer Jennifer Hills (in this version played by Sarah Butler, in probably one of the better performances of this movie) rents a cabin in a small little town, this time moved from the original's Connecticut to Louisiana, to work on writing a novel.  After an awkward first meeting with the town's local mentally retarded man, she catches the attention of a group of local good ol' boys.  What follows is 40 minutes of the worst possible definition of 'local flavor' one could ask for, as she's viciously attacked and raped repeatedly.  This is where the remake decides to differ, however, on two fronts:
-First, alongside the local boys, Jennifer has the misfortune of finding out the local sheriff (played by Andrew Howard) is in on this as well, as he also takes part in the rapes.
-and second, rather than simply being left for dead in this version, she chooses to take her chances escaping into the river, leaving her fate unknown to her attackers.
Upon surviving this attack, Jennifer comes back with an ax to grind (...actually, there isn't any use of an ax in this version now that I think of it) and proceeds to hunt down and pick off her attackers one-by-one.

Those above two changes, honestly, are one of the things I will actually give this version of the movie some credit for.  From a writing perspective, this version does do an admittedly better job at fleshing out the backgrounds of its characters, particularly the attackers.  Likewise, including the sheriff in the group addresses a point that, in the original, could be taken as a plot hole.  I say 'taken as' because the question of why Jennifer goes straight to her own vengeance rather than the law in the original can be taken on a couple of different levels here.  To some, it's a flaw in the writing, to others, it's taking matters into her own hands.  Whichever way you choose to look at it, if nothing else, it is at least an interesting variation.  The escape into the river, meanwhile, presents some new elements of conflict amongst the group as they desperately try to cover up what they've done.

Of course, the advantages the writing provides here lose some of their steam thanks to the acting.  While the script does attempt to flesh out its characters a little bit more, the characters are still kept fairly limited by the acting in this regard.  For all the script tries to do for them, the fact is, they're still a group of assholish redneck rapists. The fact their introduction scene has them beating a fish with a bat while one of them films it doesn't really say we're gonna be looking at a much more human version of these guys...not that we actually needed one.  That said, one thing I will commend the film in this regard is that, while most of the cast can be summed up in the MST3k quote "Oh, no one is THAT southern", it actually does manage a better job with the retarded Matthew (played in this version by Chad Lindberg.)  His performance, alongside Butler's is one of the better of the film, and an all-around more accurate depiction of the mentally retarded compared to Richard Pace's performance in the original.  Unfortunately, the good of his performance is ultimately undermined by the performances of his costars, including Howard as the sheriff, who alternate between leering thugs and screaming at each other.

It's sort of like a less classy A Clockwork Orange with country music and cheap beer.

Now again, I won't say the original was a masterpiece of good characterization.  I mainly bring up this fault thanks to the fact that it winds up undoing one of the elements of characterization that this version actually has going for it.  Even the scene where we see the the sheriff's family, a variation on the classic 'even monsters have loved ones' theme, falls somewhat flat here.  I think at least part of this is also thanks to how it's handled - in the original, this scene is part of a moment as Jennifer studies her attackers to plan her revenge - it presents an interesting brief challenge to her vengeance, but one that doesn't really sway her hand.  By comparison, here it seems to be more for the audience's benefit than any characterization on Jennifer's part.

Just your friendly local law enforceme--wait a minute...

OK, with the matter of characters and performance now out of the way, I can get into the heart of one of the real areas where I had reservation with this movie going in.  In an age where horror seems largely defined by how graphic and shocking it can be, I was braced for this film's version of the rape to be...well...OK, it's supposed to be horrifying anyway, but at the same time, not in the way I was initially envisioning it would be.  In fact, in an age where each new remake seems determined to one-up its predecessor on every level possible, it was surprising to see this film still managed to keep its version of the infamous rape scene fairly grounded.  Granted, if asked to pick between the two versions (THERE's a horrifying prospect) I think I'd still argue the original to be more effective here.  The lower budget and production values give the whole scene a more disturbing sense of being there (as my proofreader puts it best, the feeling that leaves you wondering if you might be being shown a snuff film.)  The effect is visceral and genuinely uncomfortable to sit through.  While this one was also disturbing to watch, its slicker production values also seemed to make it hard to ignore that sense of a fourth wall.  It was still disturbing to watch, but that removed some of the sting.  They try to make up for this in some regards by upping the ante in other ways (such as a protracted scene of heaped humiliation before the actual rape.)  It's a game attempt to try and make up for the shock of what's lost, but unfortunately, the effect comes across as feeling less uncomfortably raw, and more just determined to assault the senses.  This is, unfortunately, something of a product of the times and changing film quality, I will acknowledge (though the fact that they had a character recording the whole thing would have at least made for a decent way around this, still maintaining that sense of shocking immediacy by showing it to us through the camera, a la Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer,) but the fact remains the film is somewhat hurt by this.

Though if anything really hurts this movie, it's the second half.  It feels weird for me to say that the weakest part of a rape-revenge film would be the revenge aspect, but here you have it.  This is largely thanks to the fact this scene reflects on a problem that's been prevalent in horror a lot in the past decade or so.  With the success of the Saw franchise, horror has been in a period of, for lack of a better term, overcreativeness.  Again, that feels weird to say given it tends to run counter to many of the grievances with the genre, but allow me to explain - when I say overcreativeness, I'm not criticizing the nature of the stories themselves, but rather the nature by which characters die within them.  Thanks to Jigsaw, we've seen a run of films where it's not enough to simply stab or strangle someone, but you have to arrange an entire apparatus just to kill one person.  This winds up being the logic that inspires much of Jennifer's revenge in the second half.  Where in the original, the kills were fairly straight forward, each here requires a rather elaborate set-up for the sake of such displays as submerging someone in a bathtub full of lye as he's positioned over it on wooden boards in a psychotic variant on planking, or leaving a man with his eyelids held open by fishhooks as crows eat his eyes.  It ultimately undermines much of the good (...if you can call it that) that the first half accomplishes in trying to take the rape itself somewhat seriously by replacing the revenge with elaborate sequences that cancel out any semblance of realism from the first half.  Further, the depiction of Jennifer between the two versions feels somewhat more sinister here - music cues and some of the first shots she's in give us the impression of her as less a wronged woman seeking vengeance and more a bloodthirsty, superhuman serial killer.

Seriously.  This set-up feels like it started from the scriptwriter deciding they really hated the whole planking trend and, rather than wait for it to die shortly thereafter, decided to put this kill in to work out their anger.

Even as I finish this review, I find my feelings towards it somewhat mixed.  I want to be able to just completely unload on it as a crass remake that exploited a cult film for shock value - but at the same time, it does honestly feel like, at least for the first half, they did try and capture what made the original endure as a cult film and has allowed it to maintain some foothold of legitimacy in some circles of cinema.  The second half, however, ultimately throws that feeling away in favor of a more traditional straight-up horror approach.  The kills in the second half so revel in their own inventiveness and carnage that it even seems to leak back into the first half, at points making that gratuitousness feel less accidental and more intentional.  The resulting film, as horror remakes go, feels less like a shameless cash-in, and more like a case of misplaced ambition.  It does bring some interesting ideas to the table, but in the end fumbles around as many as it gets right.  I'm not sure I can, in good conscience, say it is any better than the original, but at the same time, I wouldn't say it's completely without its merits.  I'm not sure I could honestly say I'd recommend it unless you were already curious to begin with.  If you're already contented with the original, this isn't going to enhance the experience much more for you.

Also, I would like to state in closing, despite scoring even lower with critics, this film still has managed to achieve some degree of cult following for itself.  Which, in true modern film making fashion, has resulted in the announcement that I Spit on Your Grave 2 is in the works.

I don't know what to make of it either, guys.

Even Jennifer appears to be strangely unsold on the project so far.

Well, with this, February is finally almost over.  It's been an interesting, disturbing month here at the Third Row, and I promise next month we'll be trying to vary things up again (regardless of which direction you guys vote to take the blog in.)

In the meantime, till next month!

1 comment:

  1. I'd personally recommend you just keep things on this blog, maybe with a cut or a secondary title. As for another video services (of course you should keep using videos) I looked into Blip and I don't think they're really a clip hosting site, more formal videos. I'll keep looking around, maybe megavideo or similar?