If a new remake called “I Spit on Your Grave: Unrated” does anything right, it’s the way it corrects its former self on its tagline. The first “I Spit on Your Grave,” aka “Day of the Woman,” came with a poster that announced its heroine had “cut, chopped, broken and burned five men,” even though she’d only been after four. Still, it’s required viewing for cult connoisseurs (it might be the most disturbing movie anyone’s ever made, in fact), and although a remake doesn’t seem necessary, this one holds up better than you’d probably expect. The fact that there’s an extra man to slash helps.
That shouldn’t suggest that the whole thing is a Freddy-and-Jason affair, though. What makes “I Spit on Your Grave” such a dark film is that it puts sadism at the center of everything, and turns every one of its principal characters into the bad guy. One is a novelist named Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler), who heads to the country to work on her latest book. The cabin she picked is so remote that there’s nowhere to run when four men break in to harass and humiliate her at gunpoint, and things get even worse when she makes a run for it – she winds up getting a fifth rapist to join in.
After her rape and attempted murder comes her inevitable killing spree, but where the 1978 film followed her plot to get even, the remake sets its sights on the men as they try to figure out what to do next. That’s another advantage it has over the original: It approaches its characters in a way that makes them more believable. Plus, for all the torture-porn theatrics that occur here, it also understands how to develop suspense, a formality most exploitation epics like the first “I Spit on Your Grave” simply had no use for.
The original is still superior, though – what it lacks in character development and suspense it makes up for with unflinchingly shocking extremes, and the question of whether the punishment fits the crime gets more complicated. Actress Camille Keaton played a better Jennifer, too, if only by a hair. Butler hits most of the correct notes in the remake, but whenever the script requires her to be angry, she doesn’t seem to be coming from a true place.
Still, you can’t blame her for not going all the way. It’s easier to get an audience to side with a victim than a monster.
This article originally appeared on AllMedia.com