The Barrens (2012)

Is your significant other lobbying to go camping anytime soon? Does this idea sound like the worst possible thing since Kanye West and Kim Kardashian having a kid and naming it North? Have I got a solution for you. It's called The Barrens and it's available now at all reputable Blu-Ray and DVD retailers. One viewing and you'll be spending the next week at that all inclusive resort in Cancun rather than sweaty and dirty in the backwoods of some American hinterland.

The Barrens concerns the infamous "Jersey Devil," the scariest thing in New Jersey this side of Route 17 in Paramus on a Saturday. I'll take any Devils, be them Jersey, Blue, or Beelzebub himself, rather than venture on this accursed piece of highway on a weekend. But I digress...The Jersey Devil is a real urban legend, a B level player to your Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) and Loch Ness Monsters, but certainly more recognizable than the "Montana Muskrat" or Kristen Stewart's talent. Mulder and Scully tracked it in during the first season of the X-Files, I'm firmly stuck in the middle of Season 8 so I barely remember what happened. I think it was just some folks living in the woods but I could be wrong.

Richard Vineyard (Stephen Moyer, True Blood) must not have been too impressed with the X-Files episode either, because he's convinced the thing is still out there. Tasked with spreading his fathers ashes through the campgrounds they used to visit together when he was younger, Richard decides to kill two birds with one stone - ashes spreading and Jersey Devil hunting. He drags his family along with him, regaling them with tales of his youth. None of them, except maybe his young son really wants to go. His newish wife, Cynthia (Mia Kirshner), may or may not be cheating on him. His daughter, Sadie (Allie MacDonald), hate's her newish stepmother, as stereotypical movie stepmother/stepdaughter relationship rules dictate.

Reaching the campground, after running across as disemboweled deer, Richard finds things not to his liking. Too much technology. Too many people. Not very camping like. He decides that the only place to find real camping is by moving off trail. Now, I can tell you having done this at least twice in my never ends well. Meanwhile, he's having all sorts of crazy visions. He stops being able to separate dreams from reality. His family, fighting his descent into madness, become caught in the crossfire between what Richard thinks is happening and the brutal reality of the truth.

Written and directed by Darren Bousman (Saw II, III, and IV, and The Devils Carnival), The Barrens is a wonderful character study of a broken family pushed to the edge. Unfortunately it's not happy just being that. it tries to hard to be more than it should be. That's not saying that it's not done well. With the exception of 11-11-11, Darren Lynn Bousman always delivers. That being said, The Barrens definitely has it's issues.

The first act is stupendous. The teaser is wonderful (and it has Shawn Ashmore!) Unfortunately, the second act slows to a snails pace. Family dynamics take center stage and we are asked to take a few logical leaps (The other campers just kind of hang out there all the time?) The slowness pays off though as the third act quickly jump starts the films forward momentum. Richards family desperately seeks escape from Richard and he desperately seeks escape from the Jersey Devil. This dynamic carries the film almost through it's conclusion. I say almost, because Bousman keeps you guessing up until the final five minutes or so. Then chooses the least satisfying of all endings.

The ending only really becomes an issue becasue Moyers' Richard is just so damn unlikeable. From the opening scene where he lies to his son, nothing he does really shows any love for his family. There are legitimate reasons for some of his actions, but especially during the first part of the film he's really quite the asshole. That's not Moyers fault. He's really very good. Not good enough to make me watch True Blood, but still very good. The rest of the cast does well, especially Kirschner once the third act hits (she's a little hit or miss during the first act).

The Barrens is a pretty good little film, save for the slow second act and the unfortunate ending. It was dumped straight to DVD which is unfortunate, although I'm not sure how a studio would market a film like this. If you are a fan of Darren Bousman this is a little out of left field for him, not as straight laced as 11-11-11 or as bat shit crazy as Repo! and The Devils Carnival. If you are looking for a lot of gore, i.e. the Saw films, its a little light, although there are plenty of gutted animals with their entrails just lying about.So there is a little something for everyone here.

*** stars out of  *****

Thanks for Reading. "Enjoy every Sandwich"

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