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The Barrens

2012 | 98 min | R | 1.85:1

The Barrens


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Theatrical release date

 28 September, 2012

Country of origin

 United States



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The Barrens


Screenshots from The Barrens Blu-ray

The Barrens Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, October 4, 2012

I applaud writer/director Darren Lynn Bousman’s attempts to keep the spirit of low-budget horror alive, scripting stories that prey on fears of the apocalyptic unknown and the mentally unstable. However, with efforts such as “11-11-11” and a remake of “Mother’s Day,” the helmer’s ambitions are far more interesting to dissect than his movies. Add “The Barrens” to the pile of promising failures, with the creator isolating the drive to seek and destroy the legendary Jersey Devil, which promises to be an enticing feature of creepy woodsy remoteness, populated with characters touched by madness. Bousman doesn’t have the vision to hoist the horror up high, settling on a mundane camping thriller only sporadically enlivened by mysterious violence.

Clearly agitated on the eve of a family camping trip, Richard (Stephen Moyer) is determined to take his distracted clan to the wilds of rural New Jersey and spread his late father’s ashes. Hitting the road with concerned wife Cynthia (Mia Kirshner), teen daughter Sadie (Allie MacDonald), and young son Danny (Peter DaCunha), Richard is hunting for a bonding opportunity but finds a camp site overrun with mischievous, beer-guzzling young men. While the deep woods are spooky enough, the strangers stop to share the legend of the Jersey Devil, a creature that stalks the area on the prowl for victims, cursed by Satan himself. Dismissing the stories as nonsense to protect his brood, Richard happens to be in possession of knowledge that keeps him on edge, returning to a suspicious wound on his arm that’s causing his health to fail at a rapid pace.

The director of “Saw II,” “Saw III,” and “Saw IV,” Bousman has done an excellent job building on his cult fame and brief bankability, even managing a truly inspired picture in 2008’s “Repo! The Genetic Opera.” A genre journeyman, Bousman returns to scares with “The Barrens,” a feature that strips away the confines of claustrophobic sets to play with the great outdoors, blending a common fear of disorientation with mythical developments, building a cinematic foundation on the bloodthirsty actions of the Jersey Devil.

It’s a tempting premise, tinkering with signs of psychosis as Richard carries on through the movie, attentive to his suspiciously injured arm yet highly aware of a creature that may reside in the area, spreading its disemboweled kills around the camp site, which barely triggers the concern of park ranger Bob (frequent Bousman collaborator J. LaRose). Unfortunately, “The Barrens” isn’t a breakneck horror film, it’s more of an ill-defined dysfunctional family saga, finding Richard’s domestic situation about as unsteady as his sanity. Bousman scripts up formulaic characters to help ease his workload, with phone-happy/boy-crazy Sadie almost as big a concern for Richard as the monster, while a hasty display of marital paranoia is wedged into the middle of the story to bring Cynthia some dimension Kirshner’s vacant performance is otherwise unable to provide.

By focusing on the family’s tech habits and bickering, “The Barrens” doesn’t find its footing as a fright machine, watching Bousman attempt to pull atmosphere out of the most humdrum moments of tension. The woodsy setting is interesting, but there’s nothing pulse-pounding in the script to sufficiently work the movie into a lather. “The Barrens” takes a long time to arrive nowhere in particular, doing little with the thin line between Richard’s possible insanity and his personal history with the Jersey Devil, while the body count, a primal need in a picture as uneventful as this, is mostly handled off-screen, reduced to glimpses of gutted strangers.

Bousman opts for an obvious ending to “The Barrens,” a non-conclusion most horror nuts should be able to see coming without much effort. The finale would be more disappointing if the picture achieved an outstanding rhythm of madness; instead, it’s merely a loose-fitting cap on a lackluster feature. Those expecting a rampaging monster movie will likely be disappointed with Bousman’s vision for “The Barrens,” a trouble spot easily wiped away with filmmaking of a certain genre caliber. Sadly, Bousman doesn’t have the magic touch to make this deep forest breakdown memorable.

Starring: Stephen Moyer, Mia Kirshner, Erik Knudsen
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

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