REVIEW OF THE SIEGE OF TRENCHER’S FARM – STRAW DOGS

The Siege of Trencher's Farm - Straw DogsThe Siege of Trencher’s Farm – Straw Dogs by Gordon M. Williams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

George Magruder is a civilized man, a man who doesn’t believe in violence or guns. He believes in the advancement of mankind, using debate and discussion to address problems. George is an American. He married a Brit named Louise and together they have a young impressionable daughter. The Magruder family has been living in Louise’s country for several months as George works on a research paper. They have bypassed the civilized city, renting a sprawling home called “Trencher’s Farm” inside a mysterious village in the fringes of England, miles away from London, miles away from the rest of the world.

As George, the civilized outsider, complains to his wife about the uncivilized village surrounding him, a storm begins brewing. George is about to clash with a group of locals who wants to bury him and his family along with the other secrets plaguing this backwater village.

During a series of bizarre mishaps, George finds himself harboring a legally insane pedophile as a group of hostile men, under the influence of not only alcohol, but years of repression, attempts to breach his house. A blizzard has crippled this small village, but it hasn’t crippled the action unfolding at Trencher’s Farm. George has the simple yet very powerful objective of protecting his home and his family. The last half of the book plays out in near real-time. This is the book’s best and, conversely, most critical feature. It’s literary genius to see George transform right in front of your eyes. He becomes a “man,” at least in his wife’s eyes, and uses his book smarts to defend, and ultimately attack, these intruders. Every man has his breaking point and Mr. Williams provides us with a window into George’s transformation from a coward, to a strong man, to an inhuman animal.

If you enjoy action and becoming immersed into the details of an elaborate plot, then you must read this classic. Two films have spawned from Mr. Williams’ words. This book has similarities in characters and form, but it’s nothing like the film adaptations. Read it!

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REVIEW OF STRAW DOGS (2011)

Cross-cutting Masterpiece

Straw Dogs is a dark, menacing, can’t-look-away psychological thriller. The characters are what make this film shine. David, our hero, is a hip screenwriter from Los Angeles who just entered a world only explored on paper in his screenplays, and he doesn’t even know it. He is full of flavor and in love with his actress wife, Amy, a former resident of this world who escaped for higher ground. David and Amy are opposites. David is cowardly yet industrious, in love with his wife yet in love with his vocabulary. Amy is strong yet submissive, in love with her husband, yet in love with her arrogance. When a crew of locals win the bid to nail on a new roof on Amy’s old house, a bubble begins to grow. David has to stand up to his wife, to the locals, to his own weakness to survive in this film. There is great contrast between his world, an agnostic, realistic world, and that of the southern locals. The problem for these locals, these “Straw Dogs,” is that their community is finished with them when they stop holding a football and start holding a hammer.

This adaptation to the American South is just as convincing as the 1971 film set in rural England. The film-making is tight and uses some wonderful techniques to externalize the struggle plaguing these characters. Quick cuts of the chaotic high school football game drip with terror, showing us the pain that Amy is feeling.  I particularly like the cross-cutting between the hunting scene and the scene of Amy’s despair.

Many films jump days, months, or even years in time. Straw Dogs does not, which is why I like it. Particularly, the last 30 minutes of the film play out in near real-time as the bubble bursts sending fire into the air. In this 30 minutes, you will experience the destruction of man. As David says “if they get in here, we’re dead.” One of my all-times favorite films (1971 version) remade into a modern classic.