The Barrens Blu-ray Review
Bigfoot, la Chupacabra, the Loch Ness Monster . . . and the Jersey Devil? Usually the only devils you need to worry about in New Jersey are the drunk ones filing out of the Prudential Center after a tough loss. Although not as well known as his legendary cohorts, the Jersey Devil is deeply entrenched in urban lore and used as the prime focus for Darren Lynn Bousman’s (SAW II, III, IV) THE BARRENS.
Richard Vineyard (Stephen Moyer, TRUE BLOOD) takes his family on a camping trip to the New Jersey Pine Barrens, the same woods his father introduced him to as a child. The main objective of the outdoor excursion is to spread his late father’s ashes in their final resting place, while hopefully bringing his sidetracked family closer together. However, during the trip slaughtered animals start to appear in the camp site and Richard experiences odd flashbacks from his previous experiences at the Barrens. As his memories manifest into delusions, Richard becomes increasingly unstable and convinced he and his family are being stalked by the mythical creature, the Jersey Devil.
There’s something about a lack of funds that actually enhances a horror film. Too much gloss and shine and today’s jaded blogosphere of an audience picks the film apart with a fine tooth “epic fail.” Director Darren Lynn Bousman brings his shoestring budget and indie production aura to this tale of the lesser celebrated creature of urban mythos, unfortunately ambiance alone is not a sufficient replacement for a good script. The story banks far too mightily on its “grand” finale which does not offset the anemic pace of trickling details revealed throughout the film. And when the creature itself is revealed it’s far too exposed, highlighting just how barren THE BARRENS budget truly was, as well as devaluing the charm of a smaller horror film’s ability to rely on more psychological terror techniques than physical devices.
Moyer, who plays this character with his natural English accent, and Mia Kirshner (THE L WORD) as Richard’s wife Cynthia are both accomplished television actors, but neither has the gravitas to spin a straw script into gold. The character of Richard starts to fall apart into madness a little too early in the story and ends up exacerbating the common cliché’s of a horror movie’s protagonist. Richard risks life, limb and even family in his obsession to confront what’s terrorizing them while Cynthia projects all the standard “no wait, we should turn back” proclamations, but only decides to take real action after it’s far too late.
THE BARRENS does have some excellent mood music which helps support the weak “jump scare” tactics, and an opening title sequence which was either produced by or in homage to the people responsible for the now classic and disturbing reel of images that begins every episode of TRUE BLOOD. But when the soundtrack and opening credits are a horror film’s top highlights, the only meaningful screams it induces are from the bank accounts of its producers.
Video: 1.78:1 Widescreen, 1080p AVC MPEG-4, Bousman best decision in making this film was the type of media he chose for recording it. Instead of crisp, clear HD video, he used Super 16mm film, giving it the graininess and motion blur of older, low budget films from the 1970’s.
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1, The sound effects and score of the film are one of the films very few strong assets. The music never drowns out the dialogue and fads in and out very subtly.
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Darren Lynn Bousman and Director of Photography Joseph White: This is about as honest a director’s commentary as you’ll ever hear. Bousman comes clean with all of the problems they had shooting this film in only 20 days and how the budget severely limited some of the creative aspects of the film that he was disappointed in.
Deleted Scene (4 min): Acting more as an alternate ending, this scene give much more explanation than the final cut finale. However, it does nothing to enhance the final product of the film.