Synopsis: David and Amy Sumner (James Marsden and Kate Bosworth), a Hollywood screenwriter and his actress wife, return to her small hometown in the deep South to prepare the family home for sale after her fatherâs death. Once there, tensions build in their marriage and old conflicts re-emerge with the locals, including Amyâs ex-boyfriend Charlie (Alexander SkarsgÃ¥rd), leading to a violent confrontation.
Adapted from the novel The Siege of Trencher’s Farm – Straw Dogs, by Gordon Williams
Release Date: September 16, 2011 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Thriller, Horror
Straw Dogs‘ opening scene takes place on the hunt. A buck has just been shot–a shot that screams into the viewer’s ears with gusto–and as it lays on the ground near-dead a man walks up to it with a knife, preparing to slit its throat. Another man stops him, in a plea it seems for the buck’s well-being, and proceeds to shoot it instead to quickly put it out of its misery. This opening scene works to establish two things about the local character’s of Blackwater, Mississippi; one, there is cruelty in this town towards other living creatures, and two, someone does have a shed of decency and respect–or so we are led to believe.
The couple Straw Dogs focuses on is David (James Marsden) and Amy (Kate Bosworth) Summer. Recently married, they arrive in Blackwater, the town where Amy grew up, to spend some quiet time at her late father’s home. Blackwater is the smallest of small towns, a redneck community at the core, and a place where watching the football game on a Friday night is required, as well as more important than responding to a call for an ambulance. The locals all know Amy, and her short-stint on an NBC television show is her claim to stardom after leaving Blackwater. Amy met David while working on the show as he was one of the writer’s. He is now working on a film about the WWII battle of Stalingrad, and his hope for a quiet retreat to complete the screenplay is just what Blackwater will provide. But things do not work out how they are meant to in Blackwater, as local bad boys/construction workers, including Amy’s ex-boyfriend Charles (Alexander Skarsgard), cause a great deal of trouble for the married couple while working to repair their barn’s roof.
Straw Dogs starts out slow, and only gets slower as the minutes creep past. Amy and David interact with the locals, and it is immediately apparent they do not like David, his shoelace lacking tennis shoes, or his very expensive classic Jaguar. David’s attempts to blend in, and prove his masculinity, fail miserably–the chugging of a Budweiser beer does little to help the matter especially when the town drunk, former coach Tom Heddon (James Woods), has you beat by ten. There is a peculiar side storyline involving the town’s mentally challenged man, Jeremy Niles (Dominic Purcell), that eludes to him hurting girls since he is not allowed near them. The existence of this character will have you scratching your head as to why he exists in the first place, until he becomes the catalyst for the climax in the end.
What causes Amy and David to end up battling for their lives in their home at the end of Straw Dogs? Good question, the answer does not exactly exist. Straw Dogs tries to build up tension from the beginning between David, Amy, and the local boys led by Charlie, but it fails miserably. You never quite understand why the locals would want harm to come to Amy or David, or why they would bother hurting them. If not for the drunk ramblings, and actions, of Tom Heddon, the film would continue on in an uninteresting fashion with zero purpose. It is the finale that makes Straw Dogs more than nothing, but a few good cheers for David outwitting the simpletons of Blackwater is not nearly enough to make anyone have to, or want to, watch Straw Dogs.
Not only is Straw Dogs completely dull for a thriller/horror movie, containing not a moment of suspense, tension, or dialogue driven conflict, it is also disgraceful with its representation of the female character Amy. As a local Amy is well-aware of how the men of Blackwater operate. They are rednecks, and the script does not try to elevate them from this status. They hunt, drink plenty of beer, say simple things, and after their high school football careers end they don’t go anywhere–small-town presumptions abound in Straw Dogs. From the moment Amy rolls back into town talk of her appearance, and how “good” she looks, are all the rage among the men. Amy does wear clothes that accentuate her body, and she regularly does not wear a bra–even when running, something odd and peculiar and from a female’s perspective painful to imagine. But Amy’s comfortableness with her body is not something that should be seen as her “asking for trouble”; in Straw Dogs screenwriter and director Rod Lurie has done just that.
The pivotal scene in Straw Dogs concerns the rape of Amy by Charlie and Norman (Rhys Coiro). The scene is disturbing, as any rape scene always is, but it does lack a certain level of powerfulness one comes to expect. It is not the scene in question that is the problem here, it is what leads up to it. Amy has just returned from a jog where Charlie and his men, in their truck, have slowly driven behind her, watching her body move as she runs, ogling her from behind. When Amy becomes aware of their leering she is angered, and expresses her dislike of the treatment to her husband David. His comment is where things go sour as he questions how she dresses, eluding to the possibility that she is in fact asking for men to treat her in such a way. The comment, “maybe you should wear a bra” hangs heavy in the air. Amy stands up for herself, thankfully, but in the next scene she purposefully opens the window to her bedroom and disrobes in front of it, giving Charlie and his men a clear view of her naked body. For Amy this may have been an empowering moment, and a way to show them what they will never in fact have a chance to experience–not the most aggressive stance but a stance no less. From a feminist viewpoint, in the rape scene that follows, it is a clear trigger into painting Amy as a woman who through her actions has in fact asked for what is about to happen.
The dichotomy of the portrayal of Amy is the only interesting thing in Straw Dogs, even if it is written leaning towards the negative. Rod Lurie may in fact believe that Amy can be seen as a strong empowered woman, since she in the end loads up the shotgun and helps David vanquish the earth of those who harmed her intentionally. On the other side she is a victim, and one who cannot even discuss what happened to her as she never reveals to David the rape occurred. She only asks that they leave Blackwater, and he of course denies her request believing they can make life work in this small town even with all of the problems that have surfaced. Then there is the defense of Charlie, her ex-boyfriend. When he rapes Amy it is almost with tenderness, to the point that you believe he does not know what he is doing is completely wrong and uninvited. Amy fights him, but eventually gives in, letting him have her without a struggle. Just as quickly Charlie’s ignorance is improbable when Norman enters the room and he does nothing to stop him from hurting Amy. Straw Dogs develops a great deal of conflicting ideas and preconceived notions about Amy, David, and the local boys, that if one delves into them they are full of angles for analysis. It is only because of this Straw Dogs gets an extra mark for writing. For those who just want a great thriller it deserves no marks.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Rod Lurie
- Producer(s): Rod Lurie
- Screenwriter(s): Alexander Skarsgard (Charlie)Kate Bosworth (Amy Summer)
- Story: James Marsden (David Sumner)
- Cast: Dominic Purcell (Niles)Walton Goggins (Daniel)Willa Holland (Janice) Laz Alonso (Deputy John Burke)James Woods ()Sarah BoydAlik SakharovTony Fanning
- Cinematographer: Larry Groupe
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA