Who knows if Meir Zarichi intended I Spit on Your Grave as a litmus test to evaluate the sexual fantasies and hang-ups of grindhouse audiences, but it’s telling that critics who were understandably disturbed by the film used crowd reactions to its graphic sex and violence as a condemnation. No more manipulative than bad movie-of-the-week films like A Beautiful Mind that trivialize mental disorder and crudely appeal to their audiences, I Spit on Your Grave insists on degrading a woman before allowing her to liberate herself, a facile formula for empowerment for sure, but one that has plenty to say about how people choose to emotionally “get off” when confronted with confrontational images. It’s an exploitation cheapie as social barometer. Not unlike I Spit on Your Grave, the Australian film Alexandra’s Project is quite literally a psychological thriller. From the way Steve (Gary Peet) grabs his wife’s breasts and dismisses questions like “I don’t know why you don’t let me do the bill-paying,” it’s clear that director Rolf de Heer has something up his sleeve. On his birthday, Steve comes home from work and is confronted with a seductive videotaped message from his wife, Alexandra (Helen Buday), who cuts her striptease short in order to air out her marital problems. The woman lays it on thick, revealing that she’s getting a mastectomy in a few days before allowing some stranger to fuck her from behind. Incredibly pat, the film is a hard swallow (in the end, Steve is really only guilty of taking his wife for granted), not least of which because the veneer of Heer’s Modern Living aesthetic is self-consciously full of itself. Alexandra’s empowerment ritual is, in essence, a mechanical lecture on sexual politics that succeeds mostly in pointing to her own passive aggression. It’s tragic that Alexandra feels the need to punish herself in order to punish Steve, and in turn free herself, but because there’s nothing to suggest that Steve would necessarily take unkindly to hearing his wife’s qualms (I suppose divorce lawyers are scarce Down Under), Alexandra’s counter-productive project strains for logic. This finger-wagging thriller empowers no one, punishes everyone, and in the end succeeds only in rewarding middlebrow audiences with a shallow this-could-happen-to-you show of admonishment. I Spit on Your Grave gets to the nitty gritty. The equally problematic Alexandra’s Project is simply glib.
- Film Movement
- 99 min
- Rolf de Heer
- Rolf de Heer
- Gary Sweet, Helen Buday, Bogdan Koca, Jack Christie, Samantha Knigge
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