Being released on Blu-Ray and DVD today, and playing in theaters in late November, is The Barrens, the latest film from Darren Lynn Bousman.
Bousman, even though his films are not necessarily great, has, I think, reached a level of proliferation in his career that he must be considered an actual and solid footnote in the film world. He directed three of the seven Saw movies, the remake of Mother’s Day, the manufactured cult musical Repo! The Genetic Opera, and the little-seen 11-11-11, which was reviewed in the pages of CraveOnline before. Love him or hate him, you must respect his constant ambition and sheer output.
Me? I don’t like most of his movies. He knows how to make a film slick and professional, but his scripts typically ring with dumb conceits and some truly inexplicable plot twists that are too big to ignore. Case in point: The main character in The Barrens, played by Stephen Moyer from "True Blood," finds out late in the film that he has contracted rabies from a dog bite that occurred before the film began. He seems to have noticed that the dog was foaming at the mouth, but bafflingly doesn’t share that information with anyone. Keeping his rabies secret could, I suppose, be chalked up to typical male machismo, but I don’t see much hidden shame in admitting you’re rabid. Sadly, if he bothered to go get a shot, the film would have been a lot less “thrilling.”
Moyer plays Richard, a dippy dad who wants – uncomfortably urgently – to take his new wife, daughter and stepson on a camping trip. The photography implies that dark things are afoot, and the music would have us thrill to this. Only there’s not much exciting about a family camping outing, even if there might be a Jersey Devil lurking in the local Jersey woods. As the film progresses, the family begins bickering over campsites, and how to pitch a tent. I hate when films try to manufacture undue drama by making characters fight and argue over petty things. It rarely works and it’s never fun to watch. Eventually, Richard reveals in small details that he recently had to put down the family dog, and that he was bitten. This is not before he begins having dementia, and suffers flashbacks about encountering The Jersey Devil as a boy. Oh yes, and another plot point: Richard also wants to scatter his dad’s ashes.
Once we learn that Richard is rabid, a lot of his illogical behavior finally makes some sense, but until then, we can only see the poor guy as a weirdo who deliberately withholds too much information. That there is a Jersey Devil in this film feels incidental. At least when we finally see the monster (which may or may not be a hallucination), it looks pretty cool. It’s like a slathering carnivorous horse pig with wings.
The film’s commentary track is a fun and blunt screed of Bousman admitting that a Jersey Devil film had always kind of been a dream project of his, and that the finished film isn’t necessarily what he wanted. That’s direct of him to say. Otherwise, no features to speak of.
The film is confusing and kind of dumb. It has a few things going for it: Mia Kirshner plays the wife, and she’s a charming and pretty actress who has found herself in the straight-to-video doldrums too often. The photography is really impressive, and the pacing, for all the film’s frustrating lack of incident, is actually brisk. It’s too bad the film couldn’t have been more cogent.