While I have already made clear my thoughts about the long-awaited sequel “I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu,” there are still some things about it I cannot help but admire. There are the performances of Jamie Bernadette and Maria Olsen, and now we have a new poster and trailer done in the style of a grindhouse film. Grindhouse, aside from being the title of an awesome cinematic experience directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, is a term for a theater in America which screens exploitation films. These films were known for containing a lot of sex, violence, blood, gore and different bizarre elements you would never see in the average Disney movie. They were also afflicted with low production values and poor print quality, but these of course became qualities fans of the genre loved to no end.
These grindhouse qualities are more than evident in the newly released poster and trailer for “I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu,” and I got a huge kick out of both as a result. The poster features Bernadette quite prominently, but it also includes the many characters who inhabit this sequel as well as some of its most unforgettable images. The color scheme is perfect as it makes the poster appropriately grungy, just like a grindhouse film should be.
As for the trailer, it features footage from “I Spit on Your Grave” and makes it look as though the film is about to break (like I said, poor print quality). When it gets to “Déjà vu,” the footage is cleaned up but now dominated by a hard rock score and a narrator who sounds like he is reveling in this sequel’s down and dirty qualities. Watching this makes me want to view this sequel again, and that’s even though it is highly unlikely my opinion of it will change.
As much as I abhor “I Spit on Your Grave,” its power to shock and deeply unnerve its captive audience is something I have to admire even if I do so begrudgingly. The 1978 cult classic is like a scab which I cannot help but pick at even when I know doing so is harmful and pointless. Meir Zarchi’s controversial revenge flick was such a poorly made motion picture, and yet it maintains a raw power which would later inspire a remake and two sequels. Heck, there is even a documentary called “Growing Up with I Spit on Your Grave” which was made by Meir’s son, Terry Zarchi, and I may have to watch just out of sheer curiosity.
Now it’s 40 years later, and Meir Zarchi has given us a direct sequel to the original called “I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu.” Upon hearing Zarchi was going to make a follow up, I couldn’t help but be incredibly intrigued. It’s been a long time coming for this sequel as it was finished in 2015 but is only now seeing a release, albeit one which is seeing it go straight to DVD and Blu-ray. Has Zarchi improved as a filmmaker? Will it be more disturbing and violent than what came before? Could “I Spit on Your Grave: The Next Generation” be a more appropriate title?
Well, I got to check the sequel out the other week at its Beverly Hills premiere where the cast and crew were in attendance along with fans who seemed more excited for this than they are for “Avengers: Endgame.” Since this screening, I have tried to sort out my thoughts about it and will continue to do so in this review. What I can tell you is this; “Déjà vu” is infinitely better than its predecessor, features some really strong performances, and it shocks in a way which feels nowhere as exploitive as what came before. At the same time, it is widely uneven, has some actors redefining the term “scenery chewing,” and it has a running time of almost two and a half hours. Plus, as it goes on, it quickly becomes clear why it was given the subtitle of “Déjà vu.”
The movie opens with us learning Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) was found not guilty of killing the four men who brutally raped her, and she has since published a memoir of her ordeal appropriately titled “I Spit on Their Graves.” She meets up with her beautiful daughter, Christy Hills (Jamie Bernadette), for lunch, and we se she is a successful model who has made quite the career for herself. Both women are at a crossroads in their lives as they discuss what else they can do now they have found amazing success despite a troubled past, and the road ahead offers no easy answers.
As Jennifer and Christy leave the restaurant, they are accosted by Kevin (Jonathan Peacy) and Scotty (Jeremy Ferdman) who are eager to get Jennifer’s autograph. The fact the two men drive up to her in a white van with the words “Enola Gay” painted on the side is not a good sign as this was the name given to the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber which dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan back in World War II. Before they know it, the two women are abducted and driven far away from the eyes of the world where they meet Becky (Maria Olsen), the wife of Johnny (Eron Tabor) whom Jennifer castrated in the bathtub and left bleeding to death. Suffice to say, Becky is brimming with rage and furious at Jennifer for depriving her of a “church-going” husband and their two kids of a father, and she is intent on taking Jennifer back to the place where it all began so she can give her a “preview to hell.” In the process, Christy is forced to fend for herself after she is separated from Jennifer, and as she attempts to rescue her mother from a horrible fate, she comes to discover more about herself than she ever could have expected.
“I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu” is a much more professionally made movie than its god-awful predecessor, and Zarchi is blessed with an excellent cinematographer in Pedja Radenkovic who gives him a number of beautifully framed shots amid the bloody carnage we know will be unleashed in front of our eyes. He also provokes our views on religion and revenge among other things as Becky has convinced herself as well as Kevin and Scotty how her acts are justified by the word of God and the Holy Bible, and she sees Jennifer as nothing more than a vixen who used her sexual powers to lure Johnny and the other men to their ever so painful deaths. It’s both fascinating and frightening to see how people use religion to justify acts which Jesus would not condone in the slightest, and this makes this sequel feel surprisingly, and painfully, timely.
The first performance worth singling out here is Jamie Bernadette’s as she is a commanding presence throughout and manages to say so much while saying nothing at all. Just watch her stare down one of her assailants as she rocks back and forth in a chair. Not once does Bernadette have to tell us that Christy will have her revenge in a most brutal way as her eyes make this clear from the get go. Even when “Déjà vu” takes us through moments which defy all believability, this actress makes you believe certain things could be possible even when logic tells us they are not.
Then there is Maria Olsen who makes Becky into one of the most unforgettable characters I have seen in a horror film in quite some time. Even when she looks to head into, as Kevin Smith and Ralph Garmin would call it, “exquisite acting” territory, Olsen gives a fully committed performance as someone whose heart and soul yearns for nothing more than vengeance, and I can’t help but see her in some respects as a female Khan Noonien Singh. As she prays at the grave of her dead husband, I couldn’t take my eyes off of her, and even the snot hanging from her nose can’t possibly upstage her.
Okay, now let’s talk about what doesn’t work about this sequel. Yes, Zarchi has definitely improved as a filmmaker, but he needs a better editor as this movie has no reason to run over two hours long. Scenes drag on for much longer than they have any right to. Moreover, why does Becky want revenge after 40 years? I know the American legal system moves very slowly, but this slowly?
While the screenplay fearlessly provokes our thoughts and beliefs on religion and justice, it doesn’t provide much in the way of answers. Is Zarchi trying to strive for some particular meaning here? If so, what exactly is he getting at? And as we arrive at the movie’s climax, certain characters end up doing a 180 turn on us to where I came out of it questioning the logic of everything which came before. Why, why, why?
And as “Déjà vu” goes on, we come to see it is replaying the same exact story of the 1978 original as Christy is forced to endure the same fate as her mother though in a way slightly less disturbing. Didn’t any of the characters around her learn anything from what happened before, or are they far too dumb to realize the consequences of their actions? The bible does say “an eye for an eye,” but the meaning of this phrase proves to be quite infinite.
As for the other performances, they come to redefine scenery chewing. Jonathan Peacy in particular is all over the place in his portrayal of Kevin to where I wondered why Zarchi never bothered to rein him in. The actor is like a dog who gets all too excited to where he cannot stop jumping all over strangers. Regardless of how the dog’s owner tells them to get down, sit or shake hands, this dog cannot and will not contain their energy. I have to admire the energy Peacy brought to his role, but perhaps a little less caffeine behind the scenes would have done him some good.
And there is Camille Keaton who returns as Jennifer Hills. Her appearance here threatens to be nothing more than a cameo, and this for me was the most disappointing thing about this sequel. At the “Déjà vu” premiere, Keaton said she had wanted Zarchi to make a sequel to “I Spit on Your Grave” for years, and yet she only gets so much to do here. Considering how Jaimee Lee Curtis got to resurrect Laurie Strode for one of the best “Halloween” movies ever and turned her iconic character into a bad ass survivalist, I was hoping the same would happen with Jennifer Hills. In the end, this proves not to be the case.
There is a rape here, but only one thank goodness. Now that last sentence may sound strange, but considering the half hour of brutal abuse Jennifer Hills endured in the 1978 movie, this was a relief as Zarchi is far more focused on the revenge of the female this time around. There is also a castration scene you can see coming from a mile away, and it is as painful as the one we witnessed decades before. And yes, there is another mentally challenged who gets murdered even after he spares another human from certain death. Seeing him get killed off was especially frustrating as the character, Herman (Jim Tavare), proved to be more of a morally balanced individual than anyone else here, and yet he still gets it right in the back.
At some point, I may be able to view “I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu” as a guilty pleasure. For what it’s worth, it is a vast improvement over its notorious predecessor and a little easier to sit through even as Zarchi fearlessly and shamelessly gets under our skin. It also ends on an interesting note as one character chooses to avert a course of action we expect them to take, and we wonder if history will repeat itself again as two people who are alluded to show up unexpectedly. Still, after a time it devolves into the same old story, and many of us will be left wondering if it was one which needed to be revisited at all.
Perhaps Zarchi can make another sequel with the subtitle “Vuja De.” You remember what George Carlin said about this, right?
“Do you ever get that strange feeling of vuja de? Not deja vu, vuja de. It’s the distinct sense that somehow, something that just happened has never happened before. Nothing seems familiar. And then suddenly the feeling is gone. Vuja de.”
As much as I despise the controversial 1978 exploitation classic “I Spit on Your Grave,” I cannot help but be intrigued by its upcoming sequel. 40 years after Jennifer Hill (Camille Keaton) was brutally assaulted, left for dead and eventually reaped bloody revenge on her assailants, she rises again for another “Day of the Woman” in the eagerly anticipated sequel “I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà Vu.” Keaton returns to her iconic role along with Meir Zarchi who also wrote and directed the original, and one has to wonder how much more brutality Jennifer can possibly endure even after suffering unimaginable horrors decades before.
The trailer starts off with images from “I Spit on Your Grave” which last long enough to remind us how brutal and uncomfortable the first film was, and the moment where Jennifer has one of her attackers relaxing comfortably in the bathtub as she gently lifts up a knife she has hidden away still has men crossing their legs automatically. Whatever your thoughts were on the original, its lasting impact in the realm of revenge and exploitation films cannot be denied. It inspired a remake which was followed up by several sequels, but this follow up ignores them and focuses on the aftermath of what came before.
40 years later, we see Jennifer having a nice lunch with her daughter, Christy (Jamie Bernadette), but while walking back to their cars, they are greeted by a rabid fan gets Jennifer’s attention and asks her to sign a copy of her book. That this guy has a face which makes him look like a disciple of Charles Manson, and this is the first sign of things about to go very bad. Also, he is coming up to these ladies in a white van which, aside from the passenger and driver side, has no windows to see what’s in the back. This makes it all the easier for the fan and his driver to abduct Jennifer and Christy and throw them inside while no one else is looking.
From there, we know history will repeat itself in an intensely bloody fashion as Jennifer and Christy are greeted by an especially deranged matriarch named Becky (Maria Olsen), wife of the man Jennifer castrated in the bathtub. Becky promises both Jennifer and Christy a slow ride to hell as she seeks to avenge the men Jennifer killed, but neither of them are about to go quietly into that gentle night. This is especially the case with Christy who, at one point in the trailer, says she has her mother’s genes but none of her forgiveness.
Okay, this does not look like a great movie to say the least, but I am interested in checking it out in part to see if Zarchi’s filmmaking skills have improved in the slightest since 1978. Furthermore, even if you hated the original, you had to admire Keaton’s bravery as her character endured an infinitely appalling attack I would never wish on my worst enemy, and this sequel would not be worth the effort had she not agreed to reprise her role here.
Aside from Keaton, there are two actresses who stand out prominently in this trailer. One is Maria Olsen who looks to give a scenery-chewing performance as the embittered widow aiming to give Jennifer a taste of her own gory medicine. Granted, some of her acting looks like it just might be featured on the “Exquisite Acting” segment of Hollywood Babble-On, but she may very well give this sequel the hateful antagonist it deserves.
The other is Jamie Bernadette who plays Christy Hills. We see Christy wreaking bloody havoc on her captors to where she has bloodstains on her face much like her mother had years before. Bernadette has previously appeared in such movies as “Mortdecai” opposite Johnny Depp, and “The Darkness” which starred Kevin Bacon. If she hasn’t snuck into your consciousness yet, she will after this sequel is unleashed.
As for the male characters, they look to have the same luck as those crew members of the Starship Enterprise who are forced to wear red shirts on the average episode of “Star Trek.”
Again, this is unlikely to be a great cinematic experience, and the trailer cannot hide the signs of the limited budget the filmmakers had to work with. Filming on this sequel was completed back in 2015, and it is only now getting a release. Still, in a time where alternate timelines are more popular than ever, whether its J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” or the latest “Halloween” movie we’re talking about, this direct sequel to “I Spit on Your Grave” is something horror and exploitation movie fans cannot ignore.
“I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu” is set to be released on DVD and Blu-ray April 23, 2019. If Roger Ebert were still alive, I have no doubt he would be thrilled at how this sequel is not being shown on the silver screen (or at least, not yet).