Rob Lurie’s remake of the controversial Sam Peckinpah 1971 film Straw Dogs is an effective thriller that taps into machismo, violence, and survival. Rarely are remakes able to be a companion piece to the original, but Lurie adds a fresh update to the material.

The movie remains relatively close to Peckinpah’s original version. James Marsden and Kate Bosworth star in the roles played by Dustin Hoffman and Susan George.  This time as a screenwriter, and his actress wife who move to her small Mississippi hometown taking up residence in her recently deceased father’s farmhouse.   Driving into Blackwater, Mississippi the locals meet her homecoming with both fascination, and hostility.  When introducing David to the townies at the local dive bar, Amy’s ex-boyfriend Charlie (Alexander Skarsgård) and his roughneck pals are curious about her return, and even more inquisitive about the clean-cut husband.  The couple hires Charlie and his friends to fix the roof of their farmhouse’s collapsed barn.   Tensions build as Charlie and his gang starts to put the couple’s safety in jeopardy, until all implodes in an unforgettable climax of a deadly home invasion.

The Deep South setting stands out the most in this retelling. The original took place in the English countryside.  Mississippi is a perfect choice for the material, since the local flavor of the community is such a large player in the film. Peckinpah’s film doesn’t quite explore its setting as much as it should have, and this film dives deeper into the environment. Perhaps with the Southern setting Lurie’s film was able to explore deeper into the dangers of this claustrophobic community, where life revolves around church and football, and everyone knows a little too much about the other’s business.

Undoubtedly what those who have seen the 1971 film will be interested in is how its most notoriously scenes will be executed, a couple of which involve a cat and a very large bear trap. Peckinpah’s film was met with harsh criticism over its cinematic violence, one involving a horrific rape scene. Upon reexamining the film it’s just as jaw dropping now as it was back in the 70s.  Penkinpah was no stranger to controversy over violence on screen as seen in his earlier film The Wild Bunch. Like that film, Straw Dogs truly pushed the envelope, and ruffled the feathers of audiences and critics at the time.  Does the remake match the intensity of the original? It’s harder to capture how impactful the original was because audiences are more immune to violence. That said its climax is still frightfully realistic, and taps into the brutal survival instincts that lie hidden in even the most timid of us.

The remake, like the original, has a strong cast. I liked that they changed David from a nerdy mathematician to a handsome Harvard educated screenwriter. James Marsden has striking facial features, and has a jaw line that could cut glass. He’s a natural leading man, and has explored interesting depths. Marsden handles David’s character arc of taking charge and protecting himself and Amy brilliantly. Kate Bosworth has always been an underwhelming actress, and she is rarely given memorable roles, yet she proves here that she can do the heavy lifting as an actress. During the climax in particular she nails the panic and intensity that the role demanded. What to say about Alexander Skarsgård’s Charlie? Nobody on film or television can play sexy, and dangerous as well as Skarsgård can.  James Woods is also memorable in a small, but crucial subplot that leads to the violent siege of the final act.

Lurie has previously done political thrillers such as The Contender, and the shamefully underrated Nothing But The Truth. What Lurie understands about the material is the survival instinct that lies hidden in us all. Put yourself in either David or Amy’s position. If your life were threatened how far would go to protect yourself?

As with the original the film examines what people are capable of in the most heightened of circumstances. Like most remakes this film can never top how shocking, or influential, the original was.  It does however serve as an effective reimagining of it.