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Sarah Butler Strikes the Final Blow

BY JOSE MARTINEZ, PHOTOGRAPHY CHRISTOPHER DIBBLE, HAIR STEPHANIE HOBGOOD, MAKEUP RENEE LOIZ, STYLIST TON AGUILAR

In the midst of an afternoon interview, I Spit on Your Grave star Sarah Butler stops mid-sentence and exclaims, “That dog is wearing sunglass!” —This comes as a burly canine, sitting in the passenger seat of a BMW, sporting shades looking ever so L.A., passes by. —“I love it!”

Delivering a powerful and breakout performance in the new remake of the controversial 1978 thriller about a young woman who becomes the subject of degradation, rape and violence at the hands of five men, Butler’s character, Jennifer Hills, is brutalized and left for dead. Trapping her attackers, one by one, she exacts her unrelenting and ferocious vengeance.

“When I first read the scrip, obviously, I was in shock,” the Washington State native recalls. “I wasn’t quite sold on it right away. I was scared about what it would do to my career.” But after consulting her manage and fellow actor friends, Butler decided she was in.

The original film was censored in America and banned around the world. Critic Roger Ebert walked out of a screening,  writing in his review: “This movie is an expression of the most diseased and perverted darker human natures. I walked out of the theater quickly, feeling unclean, ashamed anddepressed.”

Having never seen the original, Butler did watch it before production started.

“It was very shocking,” she says. “It’s not the type of movie I would watch. I’m not so much into the horror genre, but that’s what’s cool about this film, it’s not really a horror film, and you can’t really put it in that box. That’s another thing that drew me to the project—it’s so unique, to have this beginning that plays like a super, intense, disturbing drama and then have it turn around into this revenge thing, we’re putting two genres together. That, combined with the opportunity to play such a wide range of emotions is a big challenge to play a character that goes through so much. It was an honor for me to do it.”

Opting to release the remake as unrated, it will definitely shock and upset some moviegoers, as it did the film’s star during filming. “It was pretty scary at times,” Butler admits. “Some of the things the guys were doing to me seemed, really, really real. There were real matches being thrown at me and I really had my head dunked under water, and those things really freaked me out. And sometimes it was hard to come out of it. When [director] Steven (R. Monroe) would yell, ‘Cut,’ a couple of times I said, ‘I’m going to cut in a minute…I’m trying to stop crying but I can’t right now, just give me a second.’ It was a weird feeling to have.”

 With no stunt double on-set, Butler was progressively covered with cuts and bruises and scrapes. “They were my battle scars,” she declares. “I was proud of them.” A self-described “tough girl,” Butler praises the work of Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, and Kate Winslet among her favorites. Stalwarts in their craft, they would be hard pressed to take on such controversial and taboo topics.

“There are so many women who have been through rape and I can’t put myself in their shoes completely, but that’s what I had to attempt to do with this film,” Butler explains. “And the best way to do that was just to pretend that’s what happened to me. I had to get violent because that’s what was written in the script, but I understand why women are scared to come forward. Women sometimes blame themselves. Women who are in abusive relationships always say, ‘If I  hadn’t upset him he wouldn’t have hit me.’ That was the cool part of this movie, and that’s where the feminist thing comes in too. I got to make a statement through Jennifer of a woman’s empowerment and taking matters into her own hands.”

As for what she hopes audiences will take away from the unapologetic and in-your-face I Spit on Your Grave, Butler says, “I hope they stay all the way through because it’s worth it. It definitely pays off in the end.” 􀀀

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