Title: Straw Dogs
Directed By: Rod Lurie
Starring: James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgård, James Woods, Dominic Purcell, Rhys Coiro, Billy Lush, Laz Alonso, Willa Holland, Walton Goggins, Drew Powell
Whether or not you’ve seen the original, the promotion campaign for Straw Dogs lays it out quite clearly; this film boasts a bloodbath. Emotion? Character development? Some sense? Not so much. But, if you’ve got a taste for this type of horror film and don’t mind forgoing effective storytelling for some gruesome and original kills, it might be worth a watch.
Big time screenwriter David (James Marsden) and his wife Amy (Kate Bosworth) ditch Los Angeles so he can take some time to write at Amy’s remote childhood home in the Deep South. Amy had always wanted to leave home since she was in high school and once she got that opportunity she never looked back, but now that her father has passed and the house is vacant, she’s willing to return.
Upon arriving back in Blackwater, Amy’s greeted by the locals including former football coach and town drunk Coach (James Woods), his cheerleader daughter Janice (Willa Holland), the local sheriff (Laz Alonso) and her ex, Charlie (Alexander Skarsgård). Charlie’s a contractor and, in an effort to make nice with the townsfolk, David hires him and his boys to fix the roof of their barn damaged during a hurricane. Charlie happily takes the gig as well as the chance to stay close to Amy. With David’s distrust ever present and Charlie’s affection for Amy as strong as ever, Charlie gets far too close for comfort.
Even without seeing Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 original, it’s quite clear where this one’s going and that wouldn’t be a bad thing had director Rod Lurie seized the opportunity to build some suspense. Instead, the first half of the movie consists of David and Amy checking out the town, doing a little work in the house and keeping an eye on a seemingly noble Charlie and his crew. Lurie throws in a few hints that trouble’s lurking, but none are successful at building any tension.
That problem bleeds into the film’s latter half, which almost feels like an entirely different movie. The primary players all experience some pretty intense arcs, but those arcs come with gaping holes in the middle. Rather than build the character and let us understand why David wants to man up and fight back, he does a ludicrous 360 and comes out guns ablazing for almost no reason at all. Skarsgård’s character suffers a similar fate, starting out as a guy who seems incredibly kind-hearted, then transforms into one who might be a little sketchy, but certainly not violent and then into an all out psychopath. It’s incredibly jarring and downright absurd.
Even more absurd is the storyline that brings the film into its grand finale. Without spoiling anything, the reason everyone’s fighting and blowing each other’s brains out is so trivial in the expanse of the film, the final moments are entirely stripped of their emotion. However, that’s not to say Straw Dogs’ final act is a flat out failure. In fact, even without a tangible inciting incident, it’s incredibly entertaining, especially for those looking to see some wicked kills.
The performances are rather good as well. All the characters suffer from a lack of back story – it’s never explained what happened to Amy’s father nor the reason she and David need to relocate, which comes off as a permanent move despite their Hollywood careers – but the actors deliver powerful enough performances that they still feel relatively real. Marsden is mesmerizing on screen, as always, earning your sympathy from the start. Bosworth tends to ride his wave, but has a few nice and a few honestly horrifying moments herself. Much like he showed recently on True Blood, Skarsgård has no trouble taking one character and portraying him as the ultimate good guy one minute and then a ruthless killer the next. Then again, that instant turnaround wasn’t particularly appropriate here.
Other than the leading trio, no one really makes much of an impact. Perhaps Woods makes the boldest statement, but that’s only because his crazy drunk character is thrown in our faces incessantly. Of Charlie’s band of sidekicks, Drew Powell makes the largest stride as Bic, making him the only lackey of value. Walton Goggins is entirely wasted, as not only is he far underused, but he’s part of the film’s most ludicrous subplot.
The 2011 Straw Dogs is your average B horror film, albeit a B- in this case. It serves its purpose delivering a few good scares and some solid kills, but, on an emotional level, it’s basically worthless.