Rarely has there been an underdog film with such a combination of violence and sexual exploitation. The seventies original Straw Dogs centred on an American mathematician played by the ever amazing Dustin Hoffman who along with his English wife, relocates to a seemingly rural corner of England only to be terrorised by sinister locals. Desperately attempting to sustain rational thought throughout the ordeal whilst simultaneously suffering from nervousness and lack of confidence, the character is ultimately forced to undergo a dramatic transformation, with the penultimate catalyst being the rape of his wife. The new Straw Dogs had a lot to live up to and a key change was the location, America’s Deep South. Hollywood couple David Sumner played by the likeable James Marsden, who bares a good resemblance to Dustin Hoffman, is an L.A Screenwriter who along with his TV actress wife Amy, moves into her old family home.
Addressing the cultural divide between the north and south detracts from the development of the key characters of David, his wife and the ring leader of the southern ‘hick’s Charlie, played by the dangerous, tormented vampire Eric from True Blood, Alexander Skarsgard. All three actors have great potential but the continuous back and forth between Charlie and his gang coupled with the antagonism from his wife was at times very cat and mouse, rather than sheer tension building. Amy, played by Kate Bosworth, fans the flames by intentionally taking her shirt off whilst the gang are carrying out construction work on their home. This, along with her repeatedly asking David why he doesn’t act only serves to exude confusion and unnecessary feuding.
The connotations invoked are the southern man’s reputation for manual labour and the simple life, compared to the glitzy Hollywood man who makes a living from being creative. The remake thus addresses the issue of masculinity in relation to where you come from and whilst Amy is desperate for her husband to act against the locals, David is very unwilling to step out of his comfort zone. Charlie’s simple mannered demeanour does not make for a formidable villain, more rather a symbol of peer pressure arising from his associates including the crazed American Football Coach.
The rape scene in itself is not so shocking as the original Straw Dogs but the penultimate showdown is brilliantly executed. James Marsden has that certain knack of turning from a friendly happy go lucky guy into a hardcore psycho you would definitely want on your side. The notion of ‘I told you I could act if I wanted to’ is timed perfectly as he looks at his wife. The series of traps laid out by David are extremely inventive and he blasts out a record whilst ‘taking back his home’ which is extremely absorbing. Charlie ultimately realises that ‘Mr Hollywood’ does have balls after all and this is clearly demonstrated within the final fight involving a not so nice hunting trap.
Straw Dogs is a pure slice of remake pleasure that hits shelves on March 12th 2012.