The film uses the folktale of Baba Yaga as a prominent plot device. Although filmed in Louisville and Danville, Kentucky in the United States, Lawn Dogs was a British film produced by Duncan Kenworthy. Lawn Dogs won numerous film awards at film festivals in Europe and met with critical acclaim, in particular for Barton's performance.
The film focuses on 10-year-old Devon Stockard (Mischa Barton), a precocious and lonely young girl who has recently moved into a gated community called Camelot Gardens in the suburbs of Louisville, KY with her parents, Morton and Clare (Christopher McDonald and Kathleen Quinlan). Recently having recovered from open heart surgery, Devon is encouraged by her parents to make friends, and she is pushed to sell cookies for a charity event for the summer. While selling cookies, Devon leaves the gated community against the instruction of her mother, and meets Trent Burns (Sam Rockwell), a poor man who lives in a trailer in the woods, and who does landscaping work in Camelot Gardens. An imaginative child, Devon imagines her life to be like the fable of Baba Yaga, a fairytale which the film makes parallels to.
Devon, at first an annoyance to Trent, continues to come to his property and slowly befriends him; despite the innocence of their friendship, he insists that she keep it a secret due to their age difference. While working in Camelot Gardens, Trent begins having altercations with two young men who live there; Brett (David Barry Gray), who is having an affair with Devon's mother; and Sean (Eric Mabius), a man with closeted homosexual tendencies who flirts with Trent. During a family barbecue, Devon explores her father's car in their garage. She finds her father's handgun in the glove compartment of his SUV. Brett discovers her and with the gun and attempts to molest Devon in the garage, but she escapes. She tells her parents about the incident, but then insists that Brett was only trying to tickle her. Clare begins to notice Devon's apparent friendship with Trent when he comes to do lawn work at their house, and becomes alarmed. Meanwhile, Brett and Sean terrorize Trent by pouring sugar in the fuel tank of his lawnmower and start a fight with him after they wrongfully believe he stole CDs from Sean's car.
Devon and Trent's friendship continues to grow, and the two go to visit Trent's mother (Beth Grant) and his father (Tom Aldredge), a Korean War veteran who is dying of a lung disease. After leaving Trent's parents' house, Trent and Devon go for a drive in the country. While stopped in a field, Devon insists that since the two are "best friends", she can show him her surgical scar on her chest. She asks him to touch it to his reluctance, and then demands that he show her his abdominal scar which he sustained in a shooting. After showing each other their scars, the two see Sean's dog running through the field, having escaped. While trying to chase the dog down in the truck, they accidentally run him over. Trent kills the badly injured dog in spite of Devon's pleas for him not to, and she runs home in a panic over the incident.
Clare and Morton, concerned over Devon's frantic behavior, ask her what happened, but she refuses to provide details, only saying that Trent killed Sean's dog and mentions that she and Trent took turns showing each other their scars. Assuming that Trent molested her, Morton drives out to Trent's property with Devon, assisted by Sean and an ex-cop who is a security guard in Camelot Gardens. The three men confront Trent while Devon sits in the car.
Morton and Sean take turns beating Trent, and Morton accuses him of raping Devon. Morton attacks Trent with a piece of wood, beating him to the ground, and hands it to Sean; but before Sean can hit him, Devon exits her father's car with his handgun and shoots Sean in the abdomen. As Sean bleeds on the ground, Devon urges Trent to leave, and they say their goodbyes. Armed with her father's gun, Devon orders her dad to lift her up into a tree that she and Trent had decorated with ribbons, and she imagines a river and a forest rising up behind Trent as he drives away, protecting him as he escapes.Mischa Barton as Devon Stockard
Sam Rockwell as Trent
Christopher McDonald as Morton Stockard
Kathleen Quinlan as Clare Stockard
Miles Meehan as Billy
Bruce McGill as Nash
David Barry Gray as Brett
Eric Mabius as Sean
Angie Harmon as Pam
José Orlando Araque as Mailman
Beth Grant as Trent's Mother
Tom Aldredge as Trent's Father
Odin the Dog as Tracker
Tafeki the Dog as Tracker
The film was well received by critics, based on 18 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes it holds a 72% "Certified Fresh" overall approval rating. Time Out praised Duigan in that he "maintains an atmosphere where dream is a short step from nightmare. Quirkily haunting." Janet Maslin of The New York Times praised the casting of Barton and Rockwell "it also shows off a poised young actress and a leading man with charisma to burn." Maslin felt that the "pointedly whimsical film overworks the fairy-tale aspect of this friendship (between Devon and Trent)", she concluded that Duigan "does breathe life into a story that rails against conventional wisdom." Empire praised Barton's "hypnotic central performance" and Wallace's "intelligent first screenplay". The review continued to note that "Duigan makes imaginative use of his material, heightening Devon's home-life horrors to semi-cartoonishness without stretching credibility, and the fantasy finale is a winner."