The Horror Honeys: Honey Switch Month ~ You Can’t Teach a Straw Dog New Tricks

Honey Switch Month ~ You Can’t Teach a Straw Dog New Tricks

A Honey Switch Month Review with Revenge Honey Katie

Straw Dogs (2011)

Another year, another female in grave danger – danger that she brought upon herself, naturally – in need of a good man to save her from the bad men that she invited into her life. But wait, this isn’t 1971; I’m talking about 2011, a year that saw the culmination of an oddly particular trend in Hollywood filmmaking, when Straw Dogs marked the third time in as many years that a 1970s rape-revenge movie had been given the contemporary remake treatment. Set 40 years apart and on different continents, Rod Lurie’s Straw Dogs (2011) takes a still-controversial Sam Peckinpah tour-de-force of violence and transplants it to a segment of rural America that may as well still be living in the past. Unfortunately, the 21st century hasn’t caught up with the filmmakers behind the Straw Dogs remake, either – resulting in a film that feels devoid of relevance both as a remake and a modern-day reflection of society.

Peckinpah’s original film – though deeply flawed and steeped in controversy, even to this day – served a purpose uniquely suited to audiences of 1971 who were embroiled in the bloody overseas military campaign of the Vietnam War. As an intellectual yet physically ineffectual American pacifist, played by a perfectly-cast Dustin Hoffman, mathematician David moves with his British wife to her childhood home in a remote part of England where local pub-going ruffians resort to increasingly violent means of besieging their home. It’s a slow burn from Hoffman feeling like a stranger in a strange land to eventually violating his principles against nonviolence in order to protect his wife and home. Along the way there’s plenty of progressive tension that boils over in the form of brutal sexual assault, physical maiming, and murder most foul. It’s a nail-biter of a movie with no easy resolution that’ll leave you feeling unclean in various ways.

Nope, nope, nope.
Lurie’s 2011 update of Straw Dogs removes the socio-political context of the original in order to simplify the friction between the displaced protagonist and his small-town foes. David is now an elitist Hollywood screenwriter (James Marsden, a far cry from Hoffman’s bookish peacemonger), taking residence in the dilapidated Blackwater, Mississippi family farm of his television starlet wife Amy (Kate Bosworth). Amy has a storied history with Blackwater’s head hunk Charlie (Alexander Skarsgård), who is hired to repair their roof with his hillbilly buddies. Mounting hostility between City Mouse David and Country Mouse Charlie escalates from menacing glances and offhand comments to physical violence, including the vicious defilement of Amy. She pleads for them to go back to L.A., but David’s bullheaded insistence that they stand their ground against intimidation leads to a retread of the climactic siege from the 1971 film – complete with an appearance from the original’s murder weapon of choice, a head-crushing bear trap.

Alexander’s primary form of intimidation is taking off his shirt.
Thus far, the revenge remakes of the 2009-2011 craze haven’t been shy about amplifying both the sexual and bodily violence of their predecessors, in ways that are sometimes effective but mostly gratuitous. In this case, Lurie’s Straw Dogs wisely tones down the most controversial element of Peckinpah’s original film – the graphic rape of Amy at the hands of both her ex-boyfriend Charlie as well as one of his cohorts. In the original film, Amy appears to enjoy the encounter with Charlie, and although it’s well-established that the two have a sexual history, the scene is problematic any way that you read it. Bosworth’s reenactment of the scene is more ambiguous than the film that came 40 years prior, though the remake’s sexual politics are not: David tells Amy early on that she should wear more modest attire when Charlie and co. are around, because “you reap what you sow.” She’s rightfully offended by the notion that wearing a bra will automatically earn her more respect; but in the end she’s still victimized for her choices, and the consequence of having a husband who can’t admit when territorial Alpha male posturing has gone too far.

If only she had worn a bra; none of this would’ve happened.
While the social and political backdrop of 1971’s Straw Dogs puts it into a context that is germane to that particular era, such a context is needed to explain and in some cases necessitate the sequence of violence that follows. The problem with Lurie’s remake, as well as most of the rape-revenge remakes following this trend, is that they fail to re-contextualize the violence for a modern audience. Things may be just as backwards in this fictional version of Blackwater, MS as they were for a rural part of England in 1971; but the ‘rednecks versus city folks’ trope has been done to death in so many hillbilly horror movies, this updated setting seems more like a lazy copout than an inspired choice. Bosworth does her best, but saddled between miscast Marsden and the uncomfortably deadpan Skarsgård, there’s not much she can do to give this remake even a modicum of modern-day relevance.

Sci-Fi Honey ‘Revenge’ Rating: Two-and-a-half Blackwater good ol’ boys out of five.

Straw Dogs (2011) is available via iTunes, Amazon Video, YouTube VOD, Vudu, Google Play, & blu-ray/DVD

What do you think of this remake?
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