Thursday, November 15, 2012

New Release Review : The Barrens

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It's known as the Jersey Devil, the winged beast spawned 400 years ago by Satan himself.  Some say this creature still inhabits the dense pine forests of southern New Jersey, where Richard Vineyard takes his family for a rustic weekend camping trip.  As the Vineyard family ventures further into the woods in search of the perfect campsite, Richard teeters on the edge of sanity.  And it seems that the blood-crazed demon called The Jersey Devil may no longer be just a myth.

Darren Lynn Bousman burst onto the genre scene in 2005, when he directed Saw 2, one of the better installments in the franchise.  Bousman spent the next couple years of his career with Jigsaw, directing the subsequent third and fourth franchise installments, which I was also a fan of.

From there, it was on to Repo : The Genetic Opera, a grassroots rock opera that quickly garnered a huge cult fan base, a fan base which did not include me.  Musicals just aint my bag, and though Repo is more my type of musical than any other musical that's come before it, it still didn't do a thing for me.  Sorry.

A couple years after Repo, Bousman helmed the Mother's Day remake, a film made in 2010 but not widely released here in the states until earlier this year.  Taking the basic plot of the goofy Troma film from 1980 and turning it into a brutal straight up horror flick, Bousman's vision of Mother's Day was one of my favorite remakes from the past couple years, and ensured that from there on out, I would watch anything and everything with the name Darren Lynn Bousman attached to it.  With that film, Bousman proved to me that he wasn't just 'that Saw guy', and that he was a force to be reckoned with in the genre.

Last year saw the release of 11-11-11, that film that is only relevant one day out of every one hundred years.  As such, it was largely forgotten after November 11th of last year, so by the time it was actually widely available for consumption (in 2012...), there was pretty much no interest from anyone in consuming it.  Including myself.  After hearing nothing but highly negative reviews, I completely avoided 11-11-11, and still have not watched it.  Since I likely won't be around in 2111, that may never change.

In 2012, it was back to song and dance for Bousman with The Devil's Carnival, another horror themed musical that toured around the country earlier in the year, and now can be watched for free over on Netflix.  I haven't done so, and I don't think I need to reiterate why.  I'm sure it's cool and all, for those who were a fan of Repo, but yea, not my cup of joe.
Which brings us to The Barrens, Bousman's other 2012 offering, which just came out on home video on October 9th.  And which I just rented on VUDU last night.  And with that, we're all up to speed on Bousman's career up to this point, so we may proceed to the review!

I guess the point I was trying to make by all that text I just typed above is that Darren Bousman is a very interesting filmmaker.  For one, he always seems to be making movies that get the shaft when it comes to distribution.  And for two, he's pretty hit or miss with his movies.  Though the likes outweigh the dislikes for me personally, it's kinda hard to say whether or not I'm a fan of him as a filmmaker, considering he's not exactly consistent with his output.  One year you've got an awesome film like Mother's Day, and the next, you've got ... The Barrens.  Hit ... and miss.

The Barrens is another big time miss for Bousman, one of my personal biggest disappointments of 2012.  As a fan of most of Bousman's work, and an avid Cryptozoology nut, I had been looking forward to seeing his take on the Jersey Devil mythos for the past couple months, hopeful that this would be one of the rare movies about a mythical Cryptid that was actually good.  Save for Mothman Prophecies and the fun flick Abominable, Cryptozoological creatures have mostly only been given the super shitty Syfy treatment over the years, which makes me one sad little man.  In the hands of Bousman, my hopes were high that the Jersey Devil would finally be given the cinematic respect he deserves.

....Which is why I was so disappointed to discover that The Barrens is a Jersey Devil movie that is pretty much about anything but the Jersey Devil.  Bousman's lame-o script is instead a psychological peek inside the fractured mind of a father/husband (played by True Blood's Stephen Moyer), a man who has taken his family camping in Jersey Devil territory, and who thinks the Devil is real, and out to get him.  And so, for the majority of the movie, the Jersey Devil is only seen as delusions in Moyer's head, or at least what we're led to believe are crazy delusions.

Now that's all good and well, and the idea of a crazy man going out into the woods and thinking he's seeing the Jersey Devil, when he's not, could be quite an interesting tale, in the right hands.  There was definitely the germ of an interesting idea there, which could very well have sprouted into an effective exploration on the effects of fear and paranoia.  But here's the problem with The Barrens

In addition to the script just all around being incredibly boring and dull, we are shown early on that the Jersey Devil does in fact exist, in the world that this movie inhabits.  In the opening pre-credits sequence, two young campers come upon a pile of dead animal bodies and are then killed by something that flys towards them, though we never see what it was that attacked them.  But obviously, since it was flying, and this is a movie about the Jersey Devil and all, we can be pretty sure that it was the Jersey fucking Devil.  And thus, the fact that the whole movie tries to convince us that we're watching a movie about a crazy guy who thinks he sees a creature that doesn't really exist, rather than a movie about a family that's about to become a hearty meal for the Jersey Devil, is totally silly.  If Bousman had instead decided to not show us that the Jersey Devil was real, in the early parts of the film, then the movie could've perhaps been interesting, as we'd actually wonder if this guy is really nuts, or if he's right about the Devil.  Instead, Bousman spoils that whole thing from the word go, thus making everything that comes after the opening credits a totally predictable bore.  Gee, I wonder who's really responsible for killing all the campers, man or myth, when you already showed us two campers getting killed by the Jersey Devil before the opening credits!!

**I realize the above paragraph is a bit spoiler-ific, but it's the movie that spoils the movie, so don't blame me!**

The other major fault of Bousman playing the film for psychological kicks rather than making a straight up Jersey Devil gone wild flick is that the movie is a total bore, without any of that Jersey Devil action that I went into it hoping for, and expecting.  It's essentially The Shining ... in the woods ... made by Syfy ... and I don't say that in any sort of complementary way.  Basically, it's a Syfy movie that's devoid of the one thing that makes Syfy movies remotely watchable; cool monster on human kill scenes.  Though the film obviously wasn't setting out to be fun, but rather a psychological trip, I again must reiterate that I didn't dislike it simply because it wasn't what I was expecting it to be.  If the story had been any good, I would've enjoyed it had the Jersey Devil played any actual role in it or not.  But the fact of the matter is that the story just isn't good.  And again, since we've already pretty much been told the secret of the film within the first couple minutes, there's not much reason to even go along for that boring ride.  Sorry Darren, but when I'm sitting there the whole time itching to see the Jersey Devil tear up every character in the film, your attempts at making a Jersey Devil film more interesting than the typical Jersey Devil film have failed.
As far as Stephen Moyer is concerned, I'm a big fan of him as Bill on True Blood, but I've never really been impressed by any of his acting outside of that show, and I always have a hard time seeing him as anything other than Vampire Bill.  He seems to be struggling with his accent throughout The Barrens, much like he was in The Caller, which gets a bit distracting.  Oddly enough, he gets to use his native accent in this film, so I'm not sure what the problem was there.  It's as if he's stuck between his real accent and his True Blood accent, both of which are internally fighting with one another to get out of his mouth!

Ya know when you're watching a movie, and you're kinda bored, so you hit the select button on your PS3 remote, hopeful that you've only got a few minutes left?  And then once you hit the button, you realize that you've only made it an hour into the film, and you've still got 30 minutes to go?  Yea.  That pretty much sums up my experience of watching The Barrens last night.  The Barrens is a big step back for Bousman, a film that feels more like a debut effort from an amateur filmmaker.  Still love ya Darren, but you're better than this.  And the Jersey Devil's better than this too.

Those cryptids get no respect, I tell ya.


Terry Smith said...

Couldn't agree less....Bousman created a family with problems...No its not a big monster movie..Yes it is a thinking mans movie...Is he crazy, are they crazy, who the hell is crazy...who is it, what is it, why is it....all things brought up in this thoughtful movie...while, as you say about Repo (which I loved), it is not for everyone...but for the ones who want to think and wonder..this is your movie....

Johnny said...

A thinking man's monster movie ... that's I believe what Bousman set out to make, but I feel he failed on that mission. What's there to think and wonder about? Pretty easy to figure out what's going to happen at the end. And the road getting there is totally uninteresting and lackluster.

Glad to hear you enjoyed the movie though.

Thomas Raven said...

This review is spot on. I could barely get through this drek. It's dull dull DULL! There's not an original character, line, or image in this pathetically mundane film.

Sadie Heldberg said...

Thanks for the review! It seems to me that this movie is being judged quite harshly. Bousman is quite brilliant when it comes to horror and he is definitely great at playing with the mind. Look at the Saw movies they are incredible, so we know he can write and direct a great script, especially with a touch of uniqueness. I love an old school horror movie with zero CGI; I think this movie will be great! My friend and coworker from DISH also loves Bousman, especially Saw 2. She’s having a girl’s night tomorrow to see The Barrens on Blu-ray, but I’m out of town helping my Mom who has some health problems. I have my laptop with me for work, so I can easily access DISH Online and rent The Barrens. My Mom has a DISH Hopper, so I’ll still enjoy the movie with the gals, even though I’m away from home.