It’s not often that I come across a film that I really can’t say much of anything about, as far as my opinion, without violating my “no-spoiler” rule. Sure, I toe the ragged edge of that line from time to time, but I try really, really hard to not give things away for the benefit of those of you out there that may not have seen the particular flick I’m discussing. Hell, the whole point of these reviews, to me, is to either share my opinion with those of you that have seen the movie in question, or give those of you that haven’t seen it enough info to decide whether or not you want to take a gander at it without ruining it for you.
Darren Lynn Bousman’s The Barrens is one of those that I can’t really expound much upon. Now understand, I’m not saying it’s the greatest film ever made, nor that it is so complex and mind-bending that it defies description; all I’m saying is that the mystery of the story is such an integral and interwoven part of the script that I’m at a loss as to how to talk about it in any detail without giving too much away.
Nonetheless, I’ll give it the old college try:
The Vineyard family is having some issues. Teen daughter Sadie is at that age where she’s still a child but thinks she’s an adult, and her attitude is full of barely post-pubescent defiance. Little brother Danny kind of fades into the background, absorbed in his video games and little-boy obsessions. Cynthia has married into the family, and struggles with trying to be a friend and caregiver to the children, but is stymied by Sadie’s angst at every turn. Finally, we have Richard, the patriarch of this group. Richard really wants this family to work; he plans a “bonding” trip for the four of them, camping in the woods where he used to go as a boy. Of course, he didn’t really ask the rest of them if they wanted to go; he simply made it a necessity (I guess he figures force-fed togetherness is better than none at all). Early on though, we sense something isn’t quite right with Richard; he seems tired and kinda gray most of the time, and often complains of a mysterious injury he received sometime prior to our meeting him. That notwithstanding, we travel with the family through the New Jersey countryside, headed for the famous Pine Barrens. Arriving at the campgrounds, Richard is pissed that there are so many people where he once recalled solitude, and his distaste is amplified when one young camper catches his daughter’s eye.
Thus, after just one night (where others animatedly tell the legend of the Jersey Devil around the communal fire, kinda frightening Danny but largely boring the hell out of Sadie), he pulls up stakes and force marches the clan deeper into the forest. He seems more and more unstable as the hours pass, and even after Cynthia notes he’s feverish and weak, he refuses to turn back; he’s hell bent on this “family togetherness”. Even finding a deserted campsite and a long dead dog doesn’t deter him. As stresses reach the breaking point throughout the group, strange sounds, fevered dreams and visions plague Richard; his ability to know what’s real from what’s not begins to border on the psychotic, and with a couple of bodies suddenly turning up in the Barrens (most notably his daughter’s would-be suitor from earlier), we have to watch to the very end to see if the monsters we believe in are the monsters we become…
Talking in-depth about any points of the script that I found appealing would risk ruining the enjoyment of any of you folks out there that haven’t seen it and may wish to; thus, I’ll avoid discussing the story itself. Instead, I’ll move on to the performances, where each of the actors acquitted themselves well: Stephen Moyer plays the part of the stressed-out dad trying desperately for some family unity yet burdened with deep personal issues like he was born to it. Mia Kirshner shows equal moxie as Cynthia; she effortlessly displays the desire to be a part of the ready-made family and also the frustration of being stopped cold by Sadie’s dismissal, who is in turn played convincingly by Allie MacDonald, showing just the right amount of defiance and post-adolescent freedom-seeking to be believable without going over the top. The rest of the cast is well-played and natural; everyone fits into their roles well, and the illusion is easy to allow yourself to be pulled into. The forest is used well in the cinematography, the mesh of shadows of the sun through the trees painting an odd expressionistic background for the family drama and looming dread. While there’s not a lot of meat for the gorehounds, there are some very well-done and bloody effects and several visceral moments that make sure you’re paying attention.
For most of the film, you’ll think you’re watching an edgy family drama; it moves to a fearful mystery/thriller of deception, brutal murder, and wondering just who you can trust; somewhere in that mix, you’ll find your horror. Again, it’s not a landmark film; it’s got some issues; it takes a lot of liberties with geography and the Jersey Devil legend, and it’s kinda slow to get going. Still, I myself enjoyed the watch; it didn’t bore me, and most importantly, it kept me thinking.
What can I say? I liked it.
After three complete rewrites for the benefit of not robbing you guys of experiencing this one for yourselves, I’m gonna say you got a full nickel’s worth from me this time out.
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