‘Straw Dogs’ Review

Published 4 years ago by , Updated September 22nd, 2011 at 7:07 pm,

Straw Dogs Review James Marsden Straw Dogs Review

Screen Rant’s Ben Kendrick reviews Straw Dogs

Original ideas are somewhat hard to come by these days – especially in Hollywood. We’ve seen blockbuster franchises built on 80’s nostalgia, board games and countless remakes of recognizable, as well as some not-so-recognizable, existing films. Now we can officially add Straw Dogs to the list of story ideas that Hollywood studio executives hope will enjoy a fruitful double dip.

Reimagining Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 film, Straw Dogs (which starred a young Dustin Hoffman), is Rod Lurie, a name most moviegoers will recognize as the writer/director/producer responsible for The Last Castle and Resurrecting the Champ. In an attempt to put his own stamp on the “lovers under siege” story, Lurie ditched the rural English setting, and subsequent international complexities, of the original for small town America. Does the change up pay off and make for a more relatable (and modern) psychological horror film or does Lurie strip an already thin plot of any substantial weight and potential enjoyment?

Unfortunately Lurie’s Straw Dogs is a mess of a film that does little more than rely on graphic violence as well as outdated stereotypes to keep the tension high. As previously alluded to, the original Straw Dogs storyline offered a much more compelling setup (with a number of factors to play on: socio-economic and nationality differences as well as significant disfunction in the couple’s relationship). Before the remake even gets started it’s already at a disadvantage, since the subtle change of location and less complicated protagonist pair strips the film of the unseen tensions that made the original so compelling. Instead, Straw Dogs 2011 seems to favor slasher film-like “heroes” and “villains” with paper thin “he’s not like us” motivations.

Kate Bosworth James Marsden Straw Dogs Straw Dogs Review

Kate Bosworth and James Marsden in Straw Dogs

While Hollywood might view the Straw Dogs storyline, which is based on the 1969 novel, “The Siege of Trencher’s Farm” by British author Gordon Williams, as provocative – it’s actually a pretty basic setup. David Sumner (James Marsden), who is a Hollywood screenwriter, and his wife, Amy (Kate Bosworth) leave the big city behind to spend some time in Amy’s Southern hometown – following the death of her father. As David tries to get aclimated to his new surroundings, he’s quickly pit against a group of protective locals. The group’s leader, Charlie (Alexander Skarsgård) is Amy’s high school boyfriend, and outwardly resents David for being an outsider and an intellectual. As tensions between the men rise, an increasingly violent set of events leads to an all out, bloody, siege of the couple’s house – forcing David to put aside his “violence is not the answer” approach and brutally fight for his family’s life.

While the storyline in the remake closely follows the original progression moment to moment, none of the scenes offer any compelling improvements to the narrative (and, as a result, actually detract from the success of the remake) – as if the primary filmmaking goal was to recreate the classic scenes in a modern (and domestic) setting, instead of compose a fresh take on the narrative that would make it even more terrifying, and timely, than the original. Not to mention, a lot of the ideas that Straw Dogs borrows from the original film do not translate successfully – making for some especially jarring character portrayals (David Werner’s aged “village idiot” is now a mentally handicapped young man portrayed by Dominic Purcell) as well as heavy handed thematic elements (David is working on a historical script about the siege of Stalingrad).

While performances are competent (not great) all around, the stereotype-heavy presentation of the “villains,” the self-described “rednecks” of Blackwater, have absolutely nothing unique to offer: they are a batch of beer drinking, God fearing, football loving, blue collar guys that love to hunt – and, of course, resent big city intellectuals. As events unfold in an increasingly violent set of circumstances, whenever the film flirts with complicated internal character conflicts, it nearly always abandons ship and locks back into trite and convoluted stereotypes.

Alexander Skarsgard Straw Dogs Straw Dogs Review

Alexander Skarsgard as Charlie Venner in Straw Dogs

The lack of unique, or even interesting, characters wouldn’t be such a problem if the film was actually tense or scary – but for 5/6 of the film, there’s very little but awkward, and at best heated, banter between David and the team of local men. As a result, when things start to get especially violent, it’s hard to truly “believe” what’s unfolding – since the build up is mostly flat. Additionally, while the siege on the Sumner house is the result of several interwoven story beats, the thread that’s primarily responsible for the actual altercation is poorly implemented throughout the overarching narrative – as is nearly every character’s motivation at that moment.

In general, Straw Dogs appears to fancy itself as significantly more profound than what is actually in the film scene to scene – but nearly every attempt at something more than just play by play, and less successful, recreations of the original are glossed over too quickly or are so heavy-handed, such as the explanation of the “Straw Dogs” monicker, that it’s hard to be affected by the extreme violence perpetrated on screen. Instead, Straw Dogs revels in its violence and then fumbles around trying to make sense of what it had just presented – failing to communicate anything profound about the characters or their relationships. None of the brutality is “earned” through compelling and tense character drama – it’s just manipulative violence thrown at the audience to get them on Sumner’s side.

No doubt some moviegoers will defend the film by saying that it’s not supposed to be a character drama – it’s supposed to be a horror film. However, even if that were the case (which it’s not, given the amount of heavy-handed theme pumped into the project), Straw Dogs would be a lackluster horror movie, with very little compelling build up to the last set piece. The final “siege” scene definitely has some brutal moments but isn’t nearly cathartic enough to sit through the sluggish, and bumbling, build up. Recommendation: just rent the original Straw Dogs – which successfully delivers more compelling character drama, earned on-screen brutality, and true psychological horror.

If you’re still on the fence about Straw Dogs, check out the trailer below:

[poll id=”195″]

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick – and let us know what you thought of the film below:

Straw Dogs is now in theaters.

Our Rating:

2 out of 5

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  1. What a shock. Seriously, since you’ve now made it quite clear that you appreciate the original’s subtlety and depth, hardly a bad word for it in fact, can we have an explanation for your Blu Ray verdict?

    • As we mention all the time, different people review different things on the site. Mike is in charge of the blu-ray post – so it’s not my responsibility to defend or challenge his take.

      I’m merely stating that the remake is unnecessary and, because of its attempt at recreating the original so closely, it fails at either improving on the original or creating a different but equally enjoyable film.

      • I checked and Mike Eisenberg had already answered for his all too brief review. Sorry. Compliments on the review in any case.

        • Ha. No worries man. I just don’t ever want to be responsible for something Mike says 😉 Kidding, kind of.

  2. Someone’s been busted!!

  3. More MTV-ed garbage remakes from the pansy generation

  4. They should have just reversed everything. The stuck up intellectual goes insane from high priced designer drugs and beats his wife and rapes her and then goes terrorizing some humble redneck farmers house with his wife and kids. Much more believable.

  5. Why was Walton Goggins used for maybe 2 minutes? Are you kidding me? Film in its entirety aside, I’ve never seen a more prolific actor get as obnoxiously underused. Great review Ben – nice discussion on the build up & the character development.

  6. Wasn’t expecting much from this film and now that the reviews are bad won’t be seeing it!!!

  7. Is it good? I saw the original and liked it, I’m really curios about this remake.

  8. I have to admit first that I have not seen the 1971 original, but also had no idea what this film was about when I went to see it this afternoon.

    Walking in blindly, I enjoyed it quite a bit – while there are some issues that are left unresolved, and the redneck villains were most certainly stereotypical, I enjoyed the simmering tension and was absolutely blown away by the climactic siege at the end. There are some brutally violent sequences, but I didn’t feel like it was torture-porn in the vein of “Saw” or “Hostel” or anything like that.

    I would have liked to have been given a reason to feel even a little sympathy toward the locals, to make it more of a struggle in deciding if they really had to be killed. Instead, I sat through some very discomforting scenes looking forward to the inevitable can o’ whoop-ass that you knew would be unleashed on these little tyrants, the proverbial big fish in the small pond. James Woods’ “Coach” was the most easy to despise character I’ve seen in a long time, and again, I think this movie lost some impact by making such a clear-cut distinction on who needed to be put down, but it’s still worth seeing.

    I found this review to be too harsh.

    • I agree that every stereotype possible was drawn between Charlie and his gang of good ole boys. I think this scenario would have been more possible in 1971 than today. I also felt like the ‘evil’ ex coach probably influenced the mind set of the posse. I had mixed feelings at the end. I found myself sympathic to both sides. It just seemed like an impossible situation that went from bad to worse. One of those, facts can sometimes be worse than fiction. Although, as I said, I think the extremely sterotypical redneck good ole boy image was drawn a bit far.

      I think Charlie more or less said it all when he said, “You just couldn’t let him go, could you.” In other words a total lack of understanding. (And Skarsgard was so HOT, it was hard to see him as evil! LOL) I found Charlie torn between two worlds. Changing the date on the black board from 1944 to 43 demonstrated that he was not just a dumb jock. After he raped Amy, I could see that he felt torn about the other guy doing the same. But he could not betray his good ole boy ethic. Besided it went too fast and he had just raped her himself. What do you say? Then when the battle at the farmhouse began, he tried to be a cool head in the beginning, but the coach just went wild. When he shot the Black sheriff, there was no turning back. And it was a case of who do you choose, the evil you know… or the fight from within. In any case, he would have been the loser. He chose the side he knew and shared the most with.

      Those good ole boys would have controlled the coach from going too far. But as it was David’s lack of understanding the way things work in Blackwater, fueled the fire. And Amy did not help. She grew up there and knew very well that they were not doing things in a way to “get along.” She knew that throwing her shirt open was an invitation, not a slap in the face. It took the rape to wake her up, and then she could not enlighten her husband only to say they had to go to the football game.

      I wonder what happened when they found that the girl was dead… how all this would have played out… 6 men killed, 1 girl dead, and 1 retarded guy who was guilty, but not capable of understanding what he did. And the new couple standing alone? They surely left a mess… and in a good ole boy town, I kinda have the suspicion that they would have been considered the bad guys for sure. I think that would have made the difference from the other movie if they would have explored this angle just a bit.

      I enjoyed the film. I didn’t just take it at face value. I wanted to understand the mindset… I thought they did a good job… and of course, Alexander Skarsgard was a pleasure to watch! I can still see some of those scenes he stole simply because he is so HOT! LOL And a good actor. It was hard for me to get upset at his rape of Amy. It was the other guy that made me cringe; and Charlie’s lack of ability to stop it. I think Amy was measuring her husband and he came up lacking. She wanted him to be that good ole boy defensive of her. In that scene we saw that Charlie was no better. He couldn’t defend her either.

      David went good ole bad boy in the end. Be careful what you ask for, you might get it… poor Amy. I wonder if she was not having a bit of confusion when she watched Charlie die. Did she suddenly realize how she really felt about him… I don’t know.

      I thought it was a really thought provoking film… this reviewer only looked at the obvious in my opinion.

    • Without a doubt the worst movie i have seen in 10 yrs. I wanted to walk out in the first 30 minutes and would have if i had been alone. Instead i stuck it out for the benefit of the people i was with only to find out they also wanted to leave mid movie. Save your money

  9. Your opinion about the end scene being not enough to make it worth sitting through “sluggish, and bumbling, build up” bothered me a bit. The story kept my attention the whole time, I mean, maybe it wasn’t perfect, but in the original, I seriously was bored. This story moved along.
    And apart from that, I liked James Marsden/Kate Bosworth in these roles. I love Dustin Hoffman in almost every other film but holy crap watching him in Straw Dogs made me cringe he was so flat. Both him and Susan – I hated how those characters were portrayed.

    I’m not saying this new Straw Dogs is great, but I will say I enjoyed it as a trip to the movies. It was worth my time.

  10. Just saw this today. Never seen the 1971 version. I thought the movie as good overall. The tension between the husband/wife was a little confusing. It was hard to picture the ‘quarterback’ as the character he played, due to TrueBlood.. The rape scene was good (could have used more detail, esp. when the 2nd guy rapes her). The retard aka ‘prisonbreak’ scene could have been better when he i guess kills the cheerleader, i had no clue she even died really but i guess the close up on her feet was supposed to imply that? Bad acting between the sherrif and the gang esp. in the end.. The bear trap that killed him at the end was hard to believe with how hard it would have been to pick the trap up without it going off.. Didnt like the ‘beat him up until the right moment’ at the very end.. Should have told him about the rape before all the killings for more intense scenes at the end. Did like the classical music playing. Where was the wife at the very end when he stood there watching the house burn down???

  11. What I disliked the most was the lack of context for Kate Bosworth’s character. None of her actions make much sense, but maybe if we knew more about her background, it would help.

    Instead, she comes across as weak and passive-aggressive. I found that way more disturbing than the violence.

  12. By the way, that link to change your avatar doesn’t work. All I get is a picture of the current avatar on a blank page.

  13. I absolutely hated this movie once the rape scene started I had to turn the movie off immediately they never said anything about this scene n there is no part in the trailor that shows this is going to happen I thought about this movie for almost. Two weeks now it makes me sick to my stomach to see a whole rape scene played out the man that created this movie does not care about women cause no women would be able to sit through this scene without having to at least say something negative I have no respect for this man neither does he for women and anyone that likes this movie or sat through this part with no problems has issues n needs to be locked up to prevent further rape I hated this movie n will never watch it again or reccommend it.

    • And you have no respect for commas or periods. A lot of movies and tv shows have rape scenes, doesn’t mean the director hates women at all. If anything it makes the audience see in a realistic way how haneous rape is and i believe influences people to be more against it.

  14. Horror film as in a horrific attempt at anything. Idiotic film that causes moronification of America. Yes made the word up as this film made up being good.

  15. I thought this movie was absolutely disgusting, I too could not even finish watching it after the rape. It has made me sick. There is no point, is not realistic, I refuse to believe there are people who act like that. Just completely retarded, hillbilly, and disgusting. Ugh, I am disappointed in the actors who agreed to make it. Kate’s character makes no sense in her actions, leaves me saying wtf.

    • The reason it made you sick was because it was too realistic. I’m sure as a woman it’s hard to watch but people unfortunately do act that way or even worse. Director is trying to show how animals (dogs in this case) act when unchained, and many Places in america it is almost lawless .

  16. I think see brought everything on them an as messed up as it sound she asked for alot of what happen to her

  17. Truly one of the worst,stupidest,dumbest,far fetched idiotic movies I have ever seen!!!!!! my 13 old writes better story plots than this waist of time!!

    • This movie wasn’t that bad, I found actually kind of scary. Also it’s waste not waist.