AVAILABLE ON REGION ‘A’ BLU-RAY, DVD AND AMAZON PRIME
RUNNING TIME: 148 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
WARNING! MAJOR SPOILER IN PARAGRAPH FIVE!
It’s 40 years after Jennifer Hills killed off the men who horribly raped her and then left her for dead. She wrote a book about the ordeal and is now working as a rape counsellor. She also has a daughter, Christy, who’s become a very successful model. However, the past comes back to haunt both of them when they’re suddenly kidnapped by Becky, the widow of Johnny one of the rapists that Jennifer killed, and her two sons. After nearly being hung by Herman, the equally mentally challenged father of Matthew who Jennifer also killed, Jennifer escapes, but by this time Christy has been taken somewhere else. Mother and daughter desperately need to find each other but they’re in very hostile territory….
148 minutes? Those were the words I uttered in astonishment to myself when I ordered I Spit On Your Grave: Deja Vu. How on earth could it be so long? It would have to be really good indeed to justify that length. The long-in-coming sequel to I Spit On Your Grave was written by the writer/director of the original a long time ago, and seems to have actually been made several years ago, but its distribution was either held back – or it struggled to get a distributor. Seeing the incredibly low rating that the film has on the IMDB, one could assume that it was because it was of very low quality. While I’ll say right now that it does have a lot of other problems, the main one is that darn length. The film is rather like a rough cut that hasn’t been edited down properly, with a lot of scenes that go on for ages or are just plain unnecessary. Of course I have no problem with extremely slow dialogue-heavy films if the dialogue is good, the acting is good, and this approach suits the kind of film it’s trying to be. But this is basically just a revenge thriller, yet it seems that Zarchi was just unwilling to cut anything from his film even though he’s had loads of time to do so if he wished. This might be understandable if it was well directed, but Zarchi seems to have lost much of the crude but undeniably effective skill he displayed in the original, with its flashes of cleverness such as the playing with the male gaze in some of the early scenes. Does the result still work in places despite all this? It does, but only very sporadically, and requires you to have to overlook some things that are damn hard to overlook, like several scenes where people just turn up at the right place and time to push the film onto the next scene almost as if they have psychic powers and teleportation devices, or awesomely idiotic behaviour by our two heroines. If you see a villain coming towards you with a knife, would you really turn your back on him and start banging on a door?
Even die-hard fans of the original are probably unlikely to say that its story needed continuation, but nonetheless the basic premise for the sequel does have merit and could work if the film was inclined to really examine the issues raised. Jennifer kills her rapists in 1978, but nobody thinks about the friends and family who would be badly affected, probably for life, by these deaths. These people might not even have any idea of the things that the killed ones got up to. Deja Vu takes that idea as a starting point, but largely screws it up because we aren’t made to feel nearly enough sympathy for these affected people, and therefore aren’t made to sympathise with their own crusade of revenge much. They’re also just plain weird, over the top and sometimes depraved country hicks who aren’t even scary for much of the time, just irritating if occasionally funny. I’m sure that, if the film was being widely seen, snowflakes would be whinging about the stereotypical, exaggerated depiction of backwoods American types. Unsurprisingly I wasn’t offended myself, but I still found the portrayal disappointingly one-note and simplistic, Zarchi’s idea of depth being how they go on and on about how city folk look down upon them. “You think we are not humans just because we are not big-city folk like you. We fear god and we pay our taxes too, We’re mighty proud of who we are”.
Still, it is interesting to visit Jennifer so many years later. She’s certainly made constructive and beneficial use of her ordeal and has managed to have and raise a daughter. After a few flashbacks to 1978, we get some shots of the barely changed garage and its surroundings in 2018 which have a rather haunting effect, and hear parts of an interview with Jennifer on the radio. We see a woman ring a man and say to him: “Are you listening”? [surely if Jennifer’s already published this book about her experience entitled ‘I Spit On Your Graves’, they’d have tracked her down sooner?]. We now see Jennifer having lunch with her daughter, and the scene goes on forever. We do learn some background about both characters, but much of the dialogue is really poor, and sad to say, Camille Keaton, whose performance in the original I admire and whom I admire as a person too, seems to have forgotten how to act. Her timing is often dreadful! Anyway, the two are shoved into the back of a van called ‘Enola Gay'[!] , and we then get another inordinately lengthy scene in which matriarch Becky rambles on and on and especially about how Jennifer [in her opinion] got aroused when she was seducing her son and chopping off his dick in the bath. As I was rather enjoying Maria Olsen’s weird but rather committed performance, I never lost interest, but most viewers will probably be of the opinion that some judicious cutting of the scene to its essentials should have been done. Jennifer then escapes from being hung in a bit as unexcitingly staged as possible, then hunts for Christy while Becky, Kevin and Herman are on her trail. Meanwhile Christy gets away from Scotty by whacking him between the legs with a stick, and – well….
SPOILER BEGINNING – the film then pulls its biggest trick which may please some who like surprises, but which may disappoint many others. In Psycho fashion, the film kills off Jennifer. I personally found this to be a huge let down and a rather cruel treatment of this character, a character who once survived a truly horrible ordeal and has been now made to revisit it. It also allows the rest of the film to be more simplistic, as the focus becomes totally on Christy and the film becomes a virtual remake – SPOILER END – with many deliberate parallels to 1978, from Christy doing her mother’s quietly powerful ‘rocking in a chair’ bit, to one of the rapists ‘coming’ at the point of death. Well, at least you can’t say that the title isn’t descriptive of the movie. This time the rape, which is unpleasant as rape scenes should be but doesn’t even attempt to be as horrible as the original despite a lesbian element, and which therefore shouldn’t trouble many censors these days as long as the film’s rating is kept the equivalent of ’18’, involves not a mentally challenged teenager but a mentally challenged old man who doesn’t want to join in the sexual assaulting. The scene doesn’t become as uncomfortable as its parallel scene from 1978, Zarchi seeming to want to steer clear of controversy this time around, though having said mentally challenged old man do some very random things to move the plot along is a bit crass. But then by now we’ve had things like Christy run off into the forest and within seconds run straight into the bad guys who are standing around at the exact spot for her to run into. This is one scene where some extra footage would have been welcome, though a total re-staging would have really been the thing to do.
Fans of this genre will enjoy the gruesome ways in which revenge is enacted, with a particular emphasis on bloody damage to the groin area. The simply done effects are perfectly fine and the drawn out nature of these set pieces is not necessarily a problem. But an increasing amount of footage just consists of these backwoods yokels yelling at each other and behaving oddly, and come the final act it’s more as if we’re watching a failed attempt at a dark comedy, which is surely a betrayal of things. Perhaps the rather elderly Zarchi was unwilling to reign in his performers. As well as Becky and co. there’s also an old married couple who drive around in a very noisy car, the even noisier woman constantly swigging from bottles of liquor. These characters would really work in the right film, but mostly just annoy in this one, and it becomes rather sad that Zarchi not only appears to increasingly be going for laughs [for goodness sake we even have some Spitting On Graves] but totally dispenses with any realism towards the end. We’re virtually given several endings to a film that doesn’t seem to know how to stop – though to be fair the pace is finally ramped up here. There’s also a revelation that may be a twist to some, though without intending to boast [I’m normally terrible at guessing twists], I was genuinely expecting it, seeing as one particular issue was clearly being avoided in the early scenes. One thing that I was impressed with though was the acting of Jamie Bernadette, especially in the later sections. I gather that she’s become a bit of a scream queen favourite in films like All Girls Weekend and The 6th Friend which she also co-wrote, and as well having the looks she can certainly act. Her role in Deja Vu really allows her to show her range, though the hardly great quality of the film probably isn’t helping in getting her fantastic performance noticed.
Deja Vu does sometimes made a good attempt at replicating the aesthetics of I Spit On Your Grave, but then tends to lose it at the last hurdle. Again, there’s no music score, a device that really worked well in 1978, but the sound effects are often overdone, and towards the end some scoring does crop up. Overall this film is hardly terrible: it certainly have its interesting aspects and well done scenes, and rape/revenge movie lovers will definitely find enough to enjoy despite the acres of sometimes extraneous footage that they will have to wade through to get to the good bits. A thorough editing job losing at least half an hour could possibly work wonders, and I wouldn’t be surprised if tighter, punchier fan edits soon make an appearance. If I had the time I’d attempt one myself, as I really wanted to like this film. But instead, I can’t help but wish that Zarchi, Keaton and co. hadn’t bothered, and had just left their perennially problematic but for the most part [in my opinion] very good original film alone. After all – love it or hate it – they made a film that will never go away and will no doubt still have people talking in another 40 years time, by which time this half-assed sequel will probably long have been forgotten.