One of shock cinema’s landmarks from the 1970’s, has been ‘re-booted’ – Hollywood’s trendy term for what the rest of us know as a good (or bad) old fashioned remake – as glossy, Americanised torture porn. Watching director / writer Rod Lurie’s Straw Dogs starring James Marsden and Kate Bosworth – in the roles Dustin Hoffman and Susan George made ‘infamous’ in Sam Peckinpah’s seminal 1971 thriller of the same name – you are left with what is little more than the ultimate ‘why bother’ film. Here he gives us yet another example in the long line of ‘nubile young couple in peril from local hillbillies’ type fodder which the big studios churn out relentlessly for the teenage horror market.
The main story has been left pretty much intact, save for transporting it from England’s rural West Country to America’s deep South (some might say this isn’t a massive leap), and making David Sumner (Marsden) a hip Hollywood screenwriter instead of a bespectacled academic like Hoffman (one can only imagine this has been to appeal to a more contemporary audience). Returning with his wife Amy (Bosworth) to her home town to seek some peace and quiet, relations soon become strained both between them and with the local rednecks who they hire to renovate their new home, leading to a violent and bloody showdown.
As with so many remakes, those who saw the classics the first time round seldom wish to sully their memories of the original by watching an updated version (though with Straw Dogs the question is equally as likely to be whether you would want to put yourself through the undeniably harrowing experience again?).
These points aside, what we should really be asking is why would anyone wish to remake what is, whether you like it or not, a landmark in cinema history. Seldom before Peckinpah pitted Hoffman and George against the horrors of Cornwall, had such a ferociously sustained attack against two innocent people, the depiction of its effect on them and the eventual breakdown of human nature and their reversion to base animal instincts in a battle for survival, been depicted so graphically on screen. At the time it was this brutality (some of which has overtones of A Clockwork Orange (1971)), both against George in the notorious rape and buggery scenes, and later as Hoffman and his adversaries are pitted in a battle to the death, that so shocked and repelled audiences. But in today’s desensitised society, where there has been a virtual erosion of the lines between what is acceptable and unacceptable, and where films given teenage ratings regularly depict full visceral violence against both men and women, will a story of a man and wife fighting against base human nature any longer have the power to shock?
In recent years Hollywood has rehashed various classics including Psycho (1998), The Wicker Man (2006) and The Thing (2011), virtually word for word and scene for scene. Which leads you to question why if you are bringing nothing new to the story, should you want to tamper with what many consider masterpieces – are current filmmakers so lacking in inspiration? With Straw Dogs they have gone one step further with a virtually identical poster as well. Perhaps they should have let this sleeping dog lie.