It’s been a while since my last Sam Peckinpah film, but the visceral quality of the realism seems not to have escaped me during my viewing of Straw Dogs. In all fairness, that is likely because Straw Dogs doesn’t really offer very much, other than visceral realism; this is one of the most superfluous entries in the list that I’ve seen in quite some time. Just to make sure I hadn’t lost my wits, I went around looking for various other reviews of this one, and saw many a glowing critique of Peckinpah’s suburban exploration of encroachment, somewhat to my bewilderment; to put it in simpler terms, I really don’t understand what all the fuss is about.
Dustin Hoffman stars as David Sumner, an introverted American mathematician newly moved into the English hometown of his wife Amy, who seems to know what a catch she is and doesn’t mind inadvertently flaunting it to the other townsfolk. One of them, a former would-be flame of Amy, finagles his way into a crew Sumner has hired to finish constructing a garage for him, and he and the crew quickly begin to capitalize on the growing unrest between David and his wife. This culminates one night when David hits the local simpleton with his car after the man has accidentally strangled a young girl to death, and the townsfolk are alerted to David taking the man to his home and come a knockin’, and David is forced to take drastic action to defend himself, his wife, and his home. This one, oddly enough, ended up as the opposite of a frequent description I’ve used to label films from the list; this one really had nothing to it aside from the plot, rather than the other way around. The whole film reminded me a little too much of the viewing experience I had watching Carrie. The film was nothing but a lead-up to the climactic sequence, only this time, it isn’t readily apparent what the climactic sequence is going to be. Peckinpah achieves this mostly through eerie and unsettling use of music, as well as a particular scene halfway through the film that I’ll save for those who’ve seen it, but it’s the music that is really at play here; it creates ever-increasing tension where there pretty much is none in the story itself. It was so incongruous that by the time the climax came along, I was really wondering what sort of justification or rationale the characters were using on themselves towards their actions throughout the scene; they all seemed to be blowing everything out of proportion just so that everyone can end up being as violent as they need to be to shock the audience of the early 1970s.
I’ll reiterate one of my lines from the opener, since it perfectly sums up my thoughts on Straw Dogs; I just don’t understand what all the fuss is about. Sure it might’ve been shocking upon its release with its frank sense of violence, but it unfortunately chose one particular area to be frank about that would be susceptible to desensitization over the years, unlike a film like Salo. Straw Dogs pulled no punches when it was made, but after some decades of other films throwing harder and wilder punches, Straw Dogs has ended up as a somewhat empty container now that the only thing it had going for it has essentially been nullified. Plus, Peckinpah already has enough representation on the list, and while I still have one more of his films left to go, I don’t see why he couldn’t potentially lose a slot in favor of something more deserving. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Straw Dogs was disappointing, but when my expectations were that the film would at least offer something to the table, and then not even deliver that, I’d have a hard time coming up with a more appropriate word.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10