Definitely a love it or hate it type film. Very violent. Very slow. Very dark. Very negative. Very realistic. Some people will feel that director Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch, Convoy) goes too far too many times in the film. He does and it is to get a reaction and be controversial.
American mathematician David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman – Kramer vs. Kramer, Tootsie) and his new wife Amy (Susan George – Mandingo, The House Where Evil Dwells) have moved to her native town of Wakely on the English coast. David, who is quite arrogant, is treated like an unwelcomed outsider from the very beginning.
Amy introduces David to an ex-boyfriend of hers named Charlie (Del Henney – Brannigan). David is busy working on his treatise on celestial navigation (as I said he is an intellectual and makes sure that everyone knows it), so he hires David and his friends to do some repairs on the house he and Amy bought.
Tension escalates in the town when fights break out, men hit on Amy and David is teased that he left the U.S. in order to avoid the Vietnam War and so is thought of as a coward. The violence and torment escalates and escalates. David is almost run off the road and Amy’s cat is found hanging in a closet. The sleepy burgh of Wakely is becoming a dangerous place to be.
If you just look at the film superficially then you will think it is filled with violence just for the sake of being violent. Really it is about the potential for violence that is inside all of us. Under the right (or wrong) circumstances we are all capable of it. The human condition is put under a microscope and looked at very closely.
What I really found disturbing about the film was its views on and portrayal of women. Not many women who have been raped by a man then flirts with them afterwards. And the first shot of Amy (in a close up) is her without a bra (which happens all film) with erect nipples. Her husband David seems more worried about his house than his wife. I understand what Peckinpah is doing here, but that doesn’t make me any less upset.
A warning that watching this film might leave you disturbed for days.
- Audio commentary from 2003 by Stephen Prince, author of Savage Cinema: Sam Peckinpah and the Rise of Ultraviolent Movies
- Mantrap: “Straw Dogs”—The Final Cut
- Sam Peckinpah: Man of Iron
- New conversation between film critic Michael Sragow and filmmaker Roger Spottiswoode, who worked as one of the editors on the film
- New interview with film scholar Linda Williams about the controversies surrounding the film
- Archival interviews with actor Susan George, producer Daniel Melnick, and Peckinpah biographer Garner Simmons
- Behind-the-scenes footage
- TV spots and trailers
- PLUS: An essay by scholar and critic Joshua Clover