City slickers learn once again that country folk are a pack of seething, resentful savages in this sluggish thriller directed by Mike Figgis, whose heart doesn't appear to have been in it. The Tilson family is ready for a change: Corporate go-getter Leah (Sharon Stone) has just been made an indecent proposal by her boss, and documentarian Cooper (Dennis Quaid) is fed up with the hectic pace of New York City life. Things come to a head when their small son, Jesse (Ryan Wilson), is hit by a car on his way to school with adolescent sister, Kristen (Kristen Stewart). They buy a spacious heap on 12,000 acres at a foreclosure sale, only to find that the previous owners, the Massie family, are still on the scene. Elderly Mr. Massie (Christopher Plummer) is languishing in a local nursing home, but his son, Dale (Stephen Dorff), is fresh out of prison and hanging around. He seems affable enough and offers to do some work on the property he needs a job and who knows the place better? But there's something creepy about him, maybe the glee he takes in describing his father's specially designed sheep-slaughtering mallets the old man once killed thousands of them in three days with well-placed blows to the head, he confides. After the Tilsons wake up to find the house infested with snakes, Cooper fires Dale, and next thing you know the STRAW DOGS stuff starts. Someone tries to run Cooper off the road, Kristen's new pony winds up dead in the pool and Cooper begins suspecting that Dale's estranged wife had good reason to take their two kids and disappear. Even the no-nonsense sheriff (Dana Eskelson) may not be the straight-shooter she seems; her hard-living sister, Ruby (Juliette Lewis), is Dale's girlfriend. Though deceptively positioned as a haunted house film, this thriller is resolutely grounded in reality, or at least a version of reality filtered through the paranoia of city slickers whose ideas about the boondocks owes more to DELIVERANCE (1972) and THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1978) than Thoreau's Walden. All of which would be fine if Figgis managed to work up any real suspense, but the film slogs towards its inevitable mano-a-mano showdown like something up to its knees in mud. The cast does its best, but the material deafeats everyone but the raspy-voiced Eskelson, who brings a delicate ambiguity to the apparently forthright Sheriff Ferguson.
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- Released: 2003
- Rating: R
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- Review: City slickers learn once again that country folk are a pack of seething, resentful savages in this sluggish thriller directed by Mike Figgis, whose heart doesn't appear to have been in it. The Tilson family is ready for a change: Corporate go-getter Leah (… (more)