A strong case can be made for the utility of violence in representations of reclaiming the female body for women. The rape-revenge sub-genre of horror is particularly fraught, in part because some of the most notable classics of the genre (I Spit on Your Grave, Ms .45, Act of Vengeance) are directed by men. What happens, then, when a woman takes up the helm of a rape-revenge film, as we see with the Soska Sisters’ American Mary and more recently Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge? I’m not here to argue that any/all rape-revenge films written and directed by men are necessarily regressive or reactionary. Nor would I argue that all rape-revenge films directed by women are automatically reclamatory. Rather, there is a perspective shift that comes about when a woman, whose material body itself may be subjected to the kind of violence represented on screen, takes up that violence as central to her cinematic project.
One example of how difference plays out in the rape-revenge sub-genre comes in the incorporation of humiliation into rape scenes. Both the original and the remake of I Spit on Your Grave give considerable screen time over to Jennifer Hills’ humiliation beyond the act of rape. In the original, her manuscript is mocked, torn up, and thrown at her. In the remake, she’s forced to whinny and prance like a horse. In Revenge, by contrast, however, Jen is raped against a sliding-glass door, with the rape interrupted at first by a drawn-out sequence of another man walking into the room eating a candy bar. After a number of close-ups on the man staring unfazed, he eventually turns and leaves the room after deciding not to “join in,” so that, while he may not be responsible for actually raping Jen, he is certainly complicit. The differences between these representations of rape center on different aspects of the humiliation: the first on the aftermath, the second on the “foreplay,” and finally, the third on the act itself. This distinction, between the temporalities of trauma, represents three diverging approaches to understanding rape as a wholly traumatic experience.