Darren Lynn Bousman is no stranger to the horror genre. Having started his career on the set of television's The X-Files, he went on to direct genre favorites such as Saw II, Repo! The Genetic Opera, and the remake of Mother's Day. His latest entry, The Barrens, is not a film about a torture-crazed serial killer, nor is it a rock opera bloodbath. This time around, Bousman tackles the psychological thriller.
The Barrens is about an English transplant named Richard Vineyard (played by True Blood's Stephen Moyer) who takes his family on a 4-day camping trip in New Jersey's Pine Barrens in order to spread his father's ashes. Along for the trip are his new wife Cynthia (Vampire Diaries' Mia Kirshner), his seventeen year old daughter Sadie (Allie MacDonald), and his young son Danny (Peter DaCunha). When they get to their destination, Richard is dismayed to find that his once-serene camping area is now a party spot for a group of teenagers, one of which named Ryan (Scream 4's Erik Knudsen) has his eye on Sadie. To make matters worse, Richard recalls a time in his childhood when he was chased by something in the very forest they're in, and a late night campfire tale about the area's legendary Jersey Devil doesn't help matters. Animals are being disemboweled, campers are missing, and Richard is starting to think that he is again being followed by the winged monster which supposedly haunts the woods. Is he slowly going insane, or is there really something supernatural lurking in the trees?
The acting here is very good, with Moyer stealing the show, seeming to have no trouble switching to crazy with but a glare. Kirshner and MacDonald also do a wonderful job supporting, with the former using a stick to make me completely buy a certain scene. DaCunha is effective as can be for such a young actor, and his facial expressions during certain scenes prove that this kid will be a name to look out for in the future. Even when he does not have lines, he uses his body effectively, as when he casually uses his asthma inhaler and puts it away in his pocket, for example. He does so with subtlety that it becomes believable.
The special effects makeup, while very rare, were quite good. There are more than a few scenes of victims (animal and human) with entrails hanging out, a particularly nasty looking compound fracture, and a creature which may or may not be a hallucination, but looks very much like what people described the monster looking like a century ago.
While I normally enjoy Bousman's films, this one left me feeling rather disappointed. I felt that from the opening scene (complete with cameos by Shawn (Frozen) Ashmore and Athena (Saw IV) Karkanis) the film suffers from poor dialogue. "So tell me again why we're awake" is the first line spoken in the film, an obvious set up for the audience. Just about all of the characters behave like clichés in a horror film, rather than real people, and this hurts a film trying to tackle psychological scares. If it were a slasher film this kind of behavior would be welcomed (and rather expected).
Bousman makes it very hard not to compare this film with The Shining, going so far as to even name the young boy Danny. The cinematography in this film was nothing like Kubrick's masterpiece, with its fast cutaway MTV-like scenes which documented the story of how the mythical creature came to be. Some people have no problem with this recent style of filmmaking, but I find it confusing and unnecessary, as if the scenes can only be understood by those who suffer from ADHD. Another pet peeve of mine is when the camera physically moves bushes and tree branches in slow dolly shots, and this happens more than a few times here, detracting from what is going on in the scene. I may be nitpicking here, but another thing which irks me is seeing supposedly "dead" characters' stomachs moving up and down as they breathe. Granted, I only noticed it once in this film, but seeing it always kills my suspension of disbelief.
The Barrens is now available on Blu-ray and DVD. See it for the acting, special effects, and ending. I recommend watching The Last Broadcast after, for a Jersey Devil double feature.
I give this film two out of five stars.