I spit on your 43 seconds of cuts

Wednesday January 19th 2011

Broadly speaking, I’m not a fan of film censorship. I think there’s very little that can be (legally) produced on film that is likely to harm a rational adult mind, and in an age when anything and everything can be shared online regardless of certification, the entire notion of ‘prohibiting’ someone from seeing a commercial film seems pretty archaic. To paraphrase the mantra of the BBFC themselves, it makes sense to me that people should be able to choose what they do and do not want to point their eyes at.

If I feel particularly strongly about the subject, maybe it’s because reviewing movies that have been censored is such a fucking nightmare. You can’t not mention the issue, because it’s the only aspect of the film that anyone seems to give a shit about, and yet offering almost anything in the way of an opinion leaves you open to criticism. If you condemn the content, you’re not only being reactionary but also coming from a position of weakness, having not seen the film as it was ‘originally intended’. After all, maybe the film’s saving grace was lost in the 24.6 seconds of required cuts. If you defend the film on the other hand, you need to have a painfully sincere moral argument prepared to prove you’re not just being mindlessly liberal. It’s easy to see why so many critics take the easy way out and just go with the ‘I’m above it all anyway’ option:

‘Oh, and you know 9 Songs? It’s frightfully dull darrrrling, I could barely stay awake. You say it has unsimulated sex in it? I didn’t even notice darrrrling.’

The truth is, such films are often the exact opposite of dull, and this week’s censorship-victim (and remake of the cult 1978 horror classic) I Spit On Your Grave is no exception. Genuinely shocking and provocative, the film might be a lot of things but it’s not boring.

43 seconds were cut when it was first submitted to the BBFC at the end of last year, and their position is certainly easy to understand given the sheer amount of questionable material present:

  • The brutal rape scene (cut ‘in order to remove elements that tend to eroticise sexual assault’) is indeed horrific, and even with the cuts, the director’s insistence on showing most of the action from the mens’ perspectives is unsettling for all the wrong reasons.
  • The film’s perpetuation of various ‘redneck’ stereotypes is pretty sickening, almost rivalling that classic of social profiling Eden Lake.
  • The revenge exacted on the rapists later in the movie isn’t really backed up by any kind of emotional progression (comparing unfavourably with 2009’s far superior Last House on the Left remake), so it ends up feeling a bit like a 20-minute torture compilation video, with a few ill-fitting LOLs thrown in for good measure. And it doesn’t help that newcomer Sarah Butler is far more convincing as a victim than a perpetrator.

Of course, it’s easy to write all of the above off as satire or an homage or whatever new excuse is fashionable this month, but when a film spends so much time insisting that it has something important to say, surely it’s fair to expect something more than gore for gore’s sake? I mean, I enjoy watching a sassy female fuck up some rapists as much as the next man, but I think it’d be pushing it to call such a sight societally helpful.

So from a moral standpoint, I Spit On Your Grave is hard to defend, and from a critical one, it’s not really worth defending. You get the sense that, at some point along the way, somebody may have wanted to make a point with the film, but the final product is so clumsy and self-contradictory that it’s hard to extract anything coherent from the narrative, let alone any kind of salient message.

But then again, what would I know? I’ve only seen 99.3% of it anyway.