What happens when a filmmaker flips through a film theory textbook and says, “OMG that sounds so cool”? Something very similar to Straw Dogs happens, which ultimately becomes a more and more muddled and frankly obnoxious remake the closer it gets to its highly touted conclusion. Even if you’ve never been bothered by or aware of typical filmmaking techniques, prepare for an intimate introduction if you happen to see Straw Dogs.
Or you could just skip the film entirely, which I would recommend outright were it not for a scene involving vaginal insertion of chess men that is simply too awkward and unbelievable to be missed.
Straw Dogs is a remake of a movie that was itself based on a rather highly respected novel by Gordon Williams. The story is very similar in each iteration; in this new version, the main character, David, is a wealthy L.A. filmmaker who travels with his wife to the backwater town called Blackwater (clever! lol!) where she grew up. Once there, they clash with the locals for all of the most obvious reasons.
Seriously, take a moment to guess why these two groups of people might clash. Did you guess god, money, art, or customs? Well, you’re right! In fact, the film isn’t content to focus on any one of these, but instead tells you everything you need to know about the characters within the first five minutes (David is rich and snooty, the locals are god-fearing and unrefined) and then spends the next hour reminding you in every way imaginable.
Most of these reminders are brought about via juxtaposition, and I refer to the high-school-art-class juxtaposition that makes you throw up a little bit in your mouth when you see it. The progression of the film goes much like this
- David drives quietly with his wife in his expensive car. Cut suddenly to a beat up truck full of hunting locals.
- David sits listening to classical music in his office. Outside, the men he hired to repair the barn’s roof turn their 80s rock louder. Cut back to David, who turns up his own music.
- Shot of David typing on his computer. Shot of worker outside hammering in a nail. Cut back and forth a few times in case anyone didn’t get it. Then do it once more.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that there’s a juxtaposition for every theme in this movie. If this is clever filmmaking, please just give me True Lies.
It’s also a shame that it seems the film doesn’t know what human people are like, because there is only one of those in the film: against all odds, it is Kate Bosworth’s Amy. Owing largely to her absolutely abhorrent treatment by nearly every character in the film at one point or another, Bosworth’s complete breakdown is just about the only human moment in the film. The fact that her nipples are on display for the vast majority of the film might make her seem like nothing more than The Nipples That Started The Whole World Crying, but the objectification of Amy is the one thing the film gets right. I wonder if it meant to…
Otherwise, it’s filled with a lot of stereotypes used in a manner that makes you wonder if the filmmakers were trying at all. There exists no nuance to the characters, no sense of unpredictability or humanity to make them anything more than devices to bring about an eventual confrontation, ensuring that the film gets across its all-important message. Oh, right, this was a remake. Someone already got the message across. Oopsies.
Finally, while the conclusion certainly ramps up the action and violence, it devolves into a ridiculous series of predictable horror-movie deaths that crap all over the film’s slow mounting tension. The final confrontation isn’t even reached in a way that makes sense, so when all the action is happening, you’re still thinking back to a couple of secondary characters and wondering, “What was the point of that?” Oh, right, all of the characters are plot devices.
If there’s one thing I did get out of this film, it’s the ridiculous pleasure derived from the chess-piece-vaginal-stimulation scene. It’s an absolutely terrible scene, worse perhaps even than the mountainous animal cracker journey from Armageddon. But it truly must be watched to be believed, and the climax involves the film’s only successful moment of comedy — intentional moment, anyway.
If this review has a bit of a tone to it, I apologize. It’s not often that I get up-in-arms about things like juxtaposition and the overuse of thematic elements. This, however, is the sort of film that serves up frustration to you on a silver platter while it simultaneously presents disappointment on a dingy, stained paper plate. Juxtaposition! It’s so hard!