Review

Review

FEARNET Movie Review: 'The Barrens'

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Darren Bousman loves to take the hard road. The energetic writer/director hit the horror geek jackpot when he was chosen to direct Saw 2, and it's safe to say that he helped keep that franchise focused (and very profitable) through Part 3 and Part 4. A young filmmaker coming off three big hits has some options, but Bousman went with something called ... Repo! The Genetic Opera, and then a remake of the sleazy Mother's Day, an occult thriller (11-11-11) that went nowhere, and another crazy Repo-esque horror musical called The Devil's Carnival. Say what you will about the man's movies, but I respect Bousman for not taking the easy road with studio-backed remakes or mindless 3D crap. I like the guy's commitment to low-budget scrappiness, which is why some will see his latest, The Barrens, as a boring walk through the forest, but I chose to enjoy it as a mash-up between "psychological thriller" and "monster movie."

 

The Barrens is cheaply-made and (easily) ten minutes longer than it needs to be, but there are also a few strong assets and ideas at work here. Stephen Moyer plays a frustrated dad who insists on dragging his new wife and two kids along on a camping trip. The goal is to unleash his dad's ashes in a place he loved, but really, the urn is just a simple reason to get the family stuck in the forest. After a slightly arid set-up, the family finally hits the "Pine Barrens" in Southern New Jersey. A handy campfire scene catches the viewer up on the Jersey Devil legend, and then (thankfully) the foursome heads off on their own, which is when The Barrens goes from slightly compelling to legitimately interesting.
 
It's not the "monster" angle that helps The Barrens right itself after a rocky start; it's actually the story of the dad, his Shining-eqsue descent into lunacy, and how it may (or may not) have something to do with the legendary Jersey Devil. Basically, Bousman wants the viewer to wonder if the monster is real or if it's all a fragment of the father's impending insanity, and if you're the kind of horror fan who can overlook a skimpy budget and some obvious narrative padding, the third act of The Barrens ties things together in a rather intense and sometimes creepy fashion.
 
It's Stephen Moyer's performance that saves the film early on, but despite some obvious budgetary problems and a handful of dry patches that don't add up to much, The Barrens manages to ramp up the intensity (and the violence!) towards the finale, and the result is a choppy little indie that's not half-bad, but would probably be a lot more enticing if the filmmakers had the money (and the location!) they needed. Perhaps it's just my respect for Bousman's commitment to make the movies he wants (even when he has no money to make them), but there are definitely some worthwhile ideas and components here. They're just trapped in a film that can't afford them. 
 
Plus The Barrens was shot on film. That earns it an extra half-star right there.
 
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