This reworking of the 1971 Sam Peckinpaugh drama starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George again plays off of primal fear and instinct, relocated to the southern U.S. from rural England. It ultimately carries a visceral impact that has quite a wallop even for desensitized mainstream audiences. Even if it's not as trenchant as its controversial, more urgent antecedent drawn from the novel, The Siege at Trencher's Farm.
Still, Straw Dogs, starring James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, and Alexander Skarsgard, has more of a social consciousness about it than other increasingly violent, schlocky films of its kind.
Rod Lurie, a film critic turned director (remember The Contender and recently, Nothing But The Truth), uses cultural divide and passive-aggressiveness to carefully light the fuse for an intense battle of feral proportions.
Instead of Hoffman's milquetoast mathematician, Marsden's curious, preppy Ivy Leaguer David Sumner is an accomplished Hollywood screenwriter now on a project about the siege of Stalingrad.
His wife, Amy (Bosworth of The Warrior's Way), has also moved up from small-town girl status as an actress. Her father's passing has the couple needing to restore the old Mississippi home (not so different from a scenario in a deceptively unscary Cold Creek Manor).
Skarsgard turns out to be the antagonist - Charlie - the football captain sweetheart that Amy broke up with. Charlie happens to be the head of a hardened ready construction crew to shore up this antiquated Gulf Coast residence to the Sumner's liking. But, there is something underneath their Southern etiquette that will begin to gnaw at David's intellectual, rational nature.
The screenplay isn't ready-made to telegraph how the frustration, virtuosity, and inhumanity will enable the characters to encroach out of the need to mark or increase their territory. Especially, later, after a cat is left hanging for dead in a closet.
The conflict results in bleaker, filtered images as gratuitous predatory rage lets the actors go for broke in a certain ad-lib of a pressure-cooker with less of a virile abhorrent abusive quality about it.