While not the first rape-revenge picture, The Virgin Spring proved a direct influence on Last House on the Left and its countless imitators. But director Ingmar Bergman isn’t interested in the visceral revenge thrill exploited by those remakes. He’s more concerned with the aftermath—of survivor’s guilt and rationalizing brutal violence. And of the never-present God facilitating the perpetual cycle.
Set in late 19th century Sweden, Max von Sydow plays the firm head of a small household. One morning, doted daughter Karin sets out taking candles to the church, accompanied by a young unwed pregnant servant. Along the way, the two become separated, and naïve Karin falls prey to three outlaw brothers. Later that night, the brothers show up at Karin’s family farm seeking shelter, unaware of the connection. Soon the family learns the truth, and von Sydow exacts a terrible revenge.
Though still a tough watch, the period costumes and black and white photography offer a sense of detachment. Contemporary remakes prove more visceral, bordering on unwatchable. These pure exploitation affairs are often devoid of Bergman’s deeper meditations. They offer shock for shock’s sake. Last Stop on the Night Train proves an exception, packing a cynicism all its own regarding class-based justice, though it still lacks Bergman’s visual tact and nuance.