Film Review: Straw Dogs

straw_dogs headerCan I just ask this question?  Where the heck do these viewing audiences being spied on with night vision goggles in commercials come from?  Either they are the jumpiest scaredy-cats on the planet or they are big fat liar faces!  That’s right, viewing audiences!  I will give you the eye covering, and even occasional muffled screams, for your Paranormal Activity theater experience, but really?  You really gave voiceover man enough footage to deem Straw Dogs as the most frightening movie of the year?  Really!?

A while back Zac gave me the advice to start avoiding movie trailers, and for months I was sticking to the program like a responsible blind viewer.  But going cold turkey is hard, and occasionally a trailer or two would slip in to my regular viewing schedule.  Straw Dogs was one of them.  So going in I was pumped for this action packed movie about these rednecks who go all frontal assault Strangers reinterpretation on this couple.  Well, just as trailers have a tendency to give away the best and only jokes of the weaker comedy films, this one gives away the best part of this movie, which takes forever to light and burns fast.

But enough angry ranting about movie trailers.  I actually have no problems with a slow build as long as the creators know what they are doing, and every once in a while it was obvious that they did here.  Visually the film doesn’t get docked points, some sexual tension is built early on, which gives the audience a starting point for possibly why the fuse is lit to reach that climactic conclusion (if they are already trying to rationalize), James Marsden works that smile, and there is a constant question of what happens to set these characters off.

But the problem is we are left guessing as to what does this.  As much as I try to rationalize what happens within the plot and with the characters it is just too frustratingly challenging, if not impossible, to find a psychological understanding for these characters because from my point of view they lack obvious motivation or excuses for their crazy stupidity.  Sure, the more I psychoanalyze the more I can guess at, but while watching all characters just deserve to be punched in the face with my shouts of “WHY ARE YOU ACTING THIS WAY!”  (which only slightly outdoes the “THIS BETTER BE RELEVANT OR STOP SHOWING ME!” screams in numbers).  Luckily enough, these two questions do tie together at some point, or at least one question outweighs the other, but it is still a climax that was not properly risen to because for however messed up some of these individuals are, it escalates fast and gets crazy.

Which brings about the white flag as to figuring out the “villains” of the film, as much as I wanted to understand them.  Long story short it plays out like a two-hour propaganda piece emphasizing the underbelly of the south, with rednecks that live to hunt, sweat beer, haven’t moved past the machismo of times past, and believe they can carry out God’s wrath as they see fit (though usually through drunken eyes).  Let’s face it, movies can make a Nazi sympathetic if they really try, so let’s do a little better with these male characters.

What’s worse is that the characters who are supposed to be our eyes into this word are just as horrible as the others no matter how much depth and understanding I try to give to them, making it impossible to find reason to wear their team colors.  Turns out this is probably an important thing to have when there is a survival element involved because as it is the stakes really don’t matter.

As cheer-worthy as the final confrontation is after all this waiting, it still leaves an audience wanting when it comes to the film as a whole, thanks in large part to a long list of unsympathetic characters (even after they break out the big guns to make you feel for one character in particular).  Straw Dogs just doesn’t work.

Final Grade: C-
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