Its hard thinking of the right word/s to describe how watching a film like this makes you feel. I can’t say the experience as a whole was enjoyable, there were some moments that were too uncomfortable to watch and at times I felt tense, quite anxious, and unnerved by the thought of what would happen next. But there were also a few (very few) light-hearted and quite funny moments that were enjoyable to watch. The film contains strong, violent, and quite sensitive content. It’s made not just to entertain but to provoke a reaction. Whether it’s to shock, frighten, upset, disturb, or make you feel uncomfortable in some way, films like this are made to make a statement. And it does. Don’t move to Blackwater, or trust the local hillbilly handymen.
Well, there’s a little more to it than that.
Screenwriter David Sumner (James Marsden) and his small-time actress wife (Kate Bosworth) move back to her home town of Blackwater, relocating from L.A. to the house she grew up in for the peace and quiet while David writes his new film. Shortly after arriving they hire the local handymen to repair the roof; an ex flame and old friends of Amy’s (Bosworth) who don’t like the Sumner’s too-good-for-this-town attitude and take pleasure in toying with the couple.
I’m not the greatest at giving synopses of films so you can check out the trailer. Probably does the film more justice than I have.
Straw dogs is a slow burner. It takes time building up tension, the setting and visual style creating an unsettling and quite claustrophobic atmosphere. There’s a real uneasiness developed, right up to its explosive end, which surprisingly is the weakest part of the film. Characters suddenly change; but when pushed in to a corner who wouldn’t? Up until this point David (Marsden) is weak. He is tested by his wife and teased by the locals. He avoids confrontation where as Amy seems to welcome it; as if trying to provoke him. Most of the film is spent chipping away at his masculinity so his sudden show of heroics is questionable; especially when he seems to enjoy it. It becomes chaotic; characters act out without provocation. Their motives become unclear; especially as the redneck locals start to turn on each other and it becomes a shoot-em-up, which unravels everything that was so nicely built up from the beginning. But aside from a messy ending the rest of the film was pretty strong with some remarkable performances. It’s got a great cast; Kate Bosworth is surprisingly good in a role that demands so much of her. It’s nice to see her play a character that doesn’t require her to just stand there and look pretty. And she really does deliver. Though she did look a little skeletal (someone should have fed her a hamburger or two first). James Marsden is another actor who all to often gets cast as the romantic lead with little to do but be swooned over, but here he delivers an impressive performance, providing a little comedy (about the only laugh you’ll have in this film), while giving us such an irritating, cowardly and quite snobbish character. You’ll either love him or hate him; though his character would be nothing without his glasses; they are their own character.
The only fault I have with this cast was Skarsgard who played Charlie. Though he is a great actor, and the main reason I watch True Blood, he just didn’t fit the role. Even as a sweaty mess he looked more like a model that just stepped out of an enticing aftershave advert. He just didn’t fit in with his redneck friends. Perhaps he would have been more convincing in a fat suit.
The film wasn’t particularly thought-provoking. There was nothing in it that hasn’t been done or seen before, and probably done so more effectively. But it still packed a slight punch, surprising me with moments I didn’t expect. But films have to go pretty far to affect you these days. We see so much violence, and really fucked up shit that we’re desensitised to it. Nothing shocks us any more. The original (1971) came out and exposed the viewer to something that wasn’t considered the norm. People weren’t used to it and that’s what made it so disturbing. I find films like this, even the remake, more frightening than all the torture porn and slashers we have shoved down our throats every Halloween. I do love horror films though.
If you like the original then you’ll most likely enjoy this too. It’s pretty much the same, only modernised. Even Saw gets a mention in there. It’s not the best remake ever but by no means the worst.