Straw Dogs (2011)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Straw Dogs</strong> (2011)

(On Cable TV, April 2012) Some movies are unpleasant not matter how well they are executed, and this remake of Sam Pekinpah’s rural thriller certainly ranks high on the unease-meter.  From the beginning, as two young urbanites uneasily settle down in rural Mississippi alongside the unrefined locals, it’s obvious that things won’t get any better.  The good-old-boys network is bad to the bone; the young intellectual has no idea on how to get along; and there’s enough resentment between the wife and her ex-boyfriend to spark a cycle of increasing viciousness.  It gets uglier and uglier until there’s no other way out than extreme violence.  It’s meant to be unsettling –the suggestion may be that some violence can’t be met by anything but violence is enough to hang over what could have been a routine home-invasion thriller.  But Straw Dogs’s messages may be mixed in the way it dwells at lengths over the abuse and the response: at some point (most notably during a lengthy rape sequence), it’s not too clear whether it condemns or revels into what’s happening on-screen.  The male protagonist’s character arc is about shedding more and more moral inhibition until he’s able to meet his aggressors effectively.  But critic-turned director Rod Lurie’s treatment of the violence, especially during the last bloody fifteen minutes, is much closer to a schlock B-movie than to a notional exploration of issues.  It helps, a bit, that the film features some glorious Southern-USA cinematography (who wouldn’t want to own that house?) and that good actors are there to lend some more gravitas to a straightforward film.  It doesn’t, however, make the film any easier to watch, or leave viewers with fulfilled expectations.  Straw Dogs may look good, but it feels ugly… and yet not in a memorable way.

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