Straw Dogs reborn
The 1970s produced an odd clutch of movies. The ones that Backwoods specifically refers to hark from the arty exploitation genre. These were low key, had decent actors and usually had one or two brutal elements that the infamous ‘Grindhouse’ scene would find most agreeable. Top of this list is Straw Dogs, the epitomy of ‘city folk vs yokels‘ movies (up there with Deliverance and Southern Comfort). Backwoods appears to be a very good try at returning to the look and feel of these classic films.
LOOK OUT, SPOILERS AHEAD
This is a European take on the concept, setting it in somewhere almost as isolated as the middle of Cornwall – some woods deep in the Spanish countryside. Two couples return to an old family house for an extended holiday and they also hope to change their fortunes whilst they’re there. Unavoidably, the locals are about as friendly as the clientéle of the Slaughtered Lamb, and alarm bells should start ringing when the local perverts start eyeing up the sexy, yet detached Lucy (Virginie Ledoyen). Things start to get really dangerous when the two men discover a young girl with a deformed hand locked up in a filthy barn, and when they bring her back to their house the locals aren’t that far behind.
On the whole, the group’s decisions seem fairly sensible at the time. They try to leave, they try to reach some authorities, they are repeatedly thwarted by the weather and technology. They are convincingly isolated – and as this is set in 1978, there’s no BS about lack of a cell phone signal – they’re lucky to find a phone at all! When it all goes to hell, the group just try to get the hell out of the village, right up until they reach the next one anyway. This is an interesting take on the themes from Straw Dogs , and the locals are actually made just a little more human than being just ‘monstrous villagers’, even if what they did with the girl is definitely, hideously wrong.
The addition of the feral, captive young girl unavoidably reminds one of recent real life cases with a similar moral void. The question here is, does taking action warrant the loss of life involved? Should we interfere? But the ending is ultimately too poorly expressed to feeling particularly satisfying; the events just come to a grinding halt, the tension peters out, and it’s a shame, because up until then I’d been engrossed.
There’s lots to recommend this – the 1970s look and costuming is dead on, and the two men use accents that feel strangely right, pulled straight from the 1970s, the kind used in sitcoms and realistic BBC dramas fo the decade. The two women’s mismatched accents (French and Spanish) occasionally come across as monotonous, which is a shame, but they also give decent performances even if their characters don’t do the sensile thing towards the end. Everyone seems to forget they’re being chased – except for Paddy Considine’s character. If they’d listened to him in the first place, they might have been able to have a nice, quiet break and made friends with the incestuous bunch of locals!
Perhaps the subtles of the English subtitles were what truly failed this movie, although it’s honestly worth a look, but see what you make of the finalé as this seems to be its biggest failing.
Awesome recreation of the 1970s era of film, but too much is sadly lost in translation.