The 1971 original version of Straw Dogs is perhaps the most notorious film of the 70s (A Clockwork Orange and The Exorcist are strong competitors for such a title) and of Sam Peckinpah’s career, banned under the 1984 Video Recording act of 1984 Straw Dogs is one of the most shocking films of its time, most shocking for that ambiguous rape sequence. Very few directors depicted, or even embraced violence, in the way Peckinpah did and the 1971 Straw Dogs remains one of the greatest explorations of violence; however the remake, a reasonably well made film, isn’t nearly as shocking.
Instead of travelling to Cornwall (the setting of the original film) Amy (Kate Bosworth) and David (James Marsden) decide to move to the Deep South so David can concentrate on the film he is writing. Amy’s recently deceased father’s house is unoccupied so they choose to live there, however after an incident involving a cat things turn drastically worse for the couple. A shortish plot synopsis, but if you seen the original you know exactly what to expect.
The point of a remake to improve upon the original or to bring something new to the table, apart from being a slightly slicker version than the 1971 original there is nothing more to recommend the 2011 remake over the considerably more shocking 1971 original. Now people say that when a film is reviewed it must be reviewed on its own merit, but if you remake or adapt a source then comparison to the original source is inevitable. The major issue I have with the 2011 remake is that the basic plot of the two are so strikingly similar that I fail to see the point of making the film because nothing new is brought to the table. There is a lack of imagination and the film does seem, as one reviewer has noted, a product of lazy thinking.
Yet despite the film’s existence being rather pointless, Straw Dogs isn’t a bad film. The performances are fine, the pace is decent and Rod Lurie’s direction is competent, but the script has some narrative holes that need fixing up, and they are a result of changes made from the previous film. Yet again, I stress that the two films are very similar in terms of the plot, but however what is slightly different is the power it has to shock. The 1971 original is shocking to this very day for that infamous rape sequence (Amy begins to enjoy it), however during the second rape, Amy is horrified (the second rape was cut by censors, which made the film even worse in terms of its graphic and controversial nature). The remake includes the rape sequence, but without that ambiguity. Without the ambiguity the rape scene does not reach the graphic, violent and shocking nature of 1971 original and, to choose a recent example the 2011 adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (which doesn’t have ambiguity but is far more graphic).
Why does this film exist? Where are the signs that show that the writer or the director is creative and imaginative? Essentially Rod Lurie has copied and pasted the original film and just made it less bleak, dark and ugly. The remake is not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, but lacks the deep soul searching questions that the original asks of the viewer as the remake comes across as slightly more mindless in its violence as the original was. The remake is more of a display of violence rather than the exploration of violence. Furthermore, criminally, for a thriller, the 2011 version of Straw Dogs lacks tension making this a well made, and good looking, but empty thriller.
The question to ask of me is whether I would give the film a higher rating if the 1971 original did not exist, or would I give a higher rating if I had not seen the original, the question is a counterfactual thus difficult to answer, but having seen the original I am aware of the lack of imaginative thought that went into making this film. Anyway, if the Sam Peckinpah’s version was too much to stomach for you then the remake may possibly be more in your comfort zone as the factor that made the original so controversial is not evident in the remake, but the violence is still quite shocking. The remake is a pointless exercise with fine, but unmemorable performances, and adequate direction.