Film Review: Straw Dogs

Forty years after the original, Rod Lurie’s remake of Straw Dogs is a competent thriller. The film should satisfy most audiences sufficiently, although fans of the original may not be as impressed.

LA screenwriter David Sumner and his actress wife Amy move to her home town in the deep South so he can concentrate on writing his next movie. Hiring some of Amy’s old friends to renovate the house, David immediately sticks out as an outsider in the closed community. As tension grows between David and his employees, his relationship with Amy is also impacted…

Straw Dogs stands up rather well as an independent film. Compared to Sam Peckinpah’s original, it is unsurprisingly inferior. Nonetheless, there are some positive aspects of the remake. For one, the decision to set the film in small town Mississippi is a sound choice. The setting has the same tropes as the small English town of the 1971 film: a closed community, suspicious of outsiders, who look after their own. The setting may make the film more relatable to global audiences, and certainly to American ones.

Some of the changes made to the characters and their role in proceedings are completely plausible, while others work less successfully. Amy in Lurie’s film is more of an equal to her husband. This is understandable given the social shifts of the last forty years. Nevertheless, it is rather problematic with regards to the incidents that occur. While Amy wishes her husband to stand up for himself and for her, she seems willing to jump into the fray. Yet after her traumatic attack, it seems less likely that she would stay completely silent on the matter. The sheriff, meanwhile, does not hold the same weight as his counterpart in the 1971 film.

The most interesting and polarising aspect of Peckinpah’s film was the rape scene. Thankfully, Lurie chooses not to reproduce this sequence faithfully. Instead, the scene shifts the focus away from the female and on to her male attacker. This is an incredibly astute move by Lurie. The scene retains the same distress and ambiguity as the original, but not necessarily for exactly the same reason. The film is well executed, providing suitably uncomfortable viewing.

The casting of the two main male characters is excellent. James Marsden as David and Alexander Skarsgård as Charlie successfully juxtaposes these two characters. Their manner and appearance is a stark contrast; a polemic which is explored in the later part of the film. Skarsgård in particular is very convincing, while Kate Bosworth does an adequate job as Amy.

Lurie’s film reproduces some of its predecessor line for line. Other elements are altered for the worse. Thankfully the most significant change in Straw Dogs provides a talking point which is different, but no less controversial.