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Straw Dogs (2011) Movie Review

by on November 15th 2011 at 11:34 am


By Josh Shevill

Straw Dogs is a 2011 thriller/horror remake of the 1971 film of the same name, written and directed this time around by Rod Lurie (The Contender). The film follows an L.A. screenwriter who relocates with his wife to her hometown in the Deep South which eventually leads to a brewing conflict with the threatening locals causing a rift in their relationship. James Marsden (X-Men) and Kate Bosworth (Superman Returns) take over the roles previously played by Dustin Hoffman and Susan George, whilst Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood), Dominic Purcell (Prison Break) and James Woods (Once Upon A Time In America) round off the main cast.

A remake is only as good as the elements updated, and to give Straw Dogs credit, most of the changes it has made are all necessary to appeal to contemporary audiences. The relocation from Cornwall, England to Mississippi, USA makes the premise a lot more believable as the economic differences in America are far more extreme than that in the UK but also adds an interesting relevance to the on-going 'Occupy Wall Street' protests.

The character of David Sumner (Marsden) has evolved from a timid mathematician to a confident scriptwriter which makes the immediate clash of ideals with the locals far more pressing. The relationship rift has also changed from being intimate to public as it is no longer based on whether 1950's ideals of women should still exist to the far more relevant issue of how a woman should present herself to society and expect to be treated by it. The tone has also been changed so that the film focuses more on straight home-invasion horror than psychological ambiguity, a fact which has been criticised by many but, in my opinion, works better than the potential glamorisation of 'misogynistic sadism' that plagued the original.

However the film is not perfect, the CGI deer looks abysmal and frequently characters often act annoyingly illogical or make completely uninformed decisions. Some of the dialogue comes across as completely unnatural whilst the direction and soundtrack are both uninspired. In an ill-conceived attempt to appeal to horror fans, the film becomes needlessly gratuitous during the big final stand-off and as a result is unintentionally hilarious. In fact the tension and gravitas of the final scene is ruined by the laughable demise of Alexander Skarsgard that happens only a few moments before.

As far as the acting goes, Marsden is great and perfectly inhabits the conflicting confidence and awkwardness of David Sumner, always looking out of place but playing the part with innocent naivety rather than pompous smugness. Skarsgard's Charlie Venner is supposed to be the film's main villain but his character is far too polite, charming and deceptively complex to ever be truly unlikable. Instead Kate Bosworth makes for a far more suitable villain as she is often extremely unpleasant and generally acts with a bizarre twisted logic and self-entitlement that becomes infuriating as the film continues. Woods makes a truly detestable villain out of his performance as the volatile and unpredictable Coach Heddon and Purcell adds an emotional touch to his character's storyline, even if it is completely stolen from John Steinbeck's classic novel 'Of Mice and Men.'

All in all, Straw Dogs has sacrificed controversy for entertainment which is hardly condemnable, especially when it seems like today's horror films are competing to see who can get banned in the most countries. Ultimately, Straw Dogs serves as a suitable horror flick in what has been a disappointing Halloween season and is a must see for fans of James Marsden or Alexander Skarsgard.

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