Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Violence and Language
Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
Written by: Darren Lynn Bousman
Starring: Stephen Moyer, Mila Kirshner, Allie McDonald, Peter DaCunha, Shawn Ashmore & Erik Knudsen
We’ve seen tons upon tons of Bigfoot movies come and go. We’ve also seen a handful of movies about Chupacabras hit the Syfy Channel. Hell, we’ve even had a Mothman movie hit the big screen. However, there seems to be a shocking lack of horror films about the Jersey Devil. Director/writer Darren Lynn Bousman (who helmed three SAW sequels and REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA) tries to remedy this with THE BARRENS. His intentions have sadly gone to waste as THE BARRENS feels like a run-of-the-mill generic horror flick that we’ve seen plenty of times before. Trying to combine a monster movie with a psychological head-trip, THE BARRENS comes off as a disappointing squandering of a great urban legend.
Richard is a Brit living in America who has fond memories of camping in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens. Desperate to Clark Griswold the hell out of his life, Richard decides to drive his family (wife, daughter, and son) out on a four-day camping trip. The trip immediately goes sour when Richard realizes that the Pine Barrens have changed for the worse. Lots of noisy teenagers and loud music ruin whatever pleasant atmosphere could be captured. So, with his physical and mental health declining, Richard decides to drag his family further into the Pine Barrens…all while ignoring the urban legend of a monster called the Jersey Devil. Something evil is afoot though. Is Richard going murderously crazy? Is there actually a Jersey Devil killing campers? Will you care? I won’t spoil those first two questions, but I will answer the last one with a “probably not.”
Darren Lynn Bousman seems to have hit a Shyamalan-esque downward spiral in his filmography. In all respects, SAW II and III were actually far better than they should have been. SAW IV was a bit of a mess, but that’s not necessarily Bousman’s fault. REPO! will probably stand head and shoulders as Bousman’s best film and that seems to be where he peaked. After that, his MOTHER’S DAY remake was mediocre, 11-11-11 was terrible, and THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL felt like a feeble attempt to recapture the REPO! magic. THE BARRENS sees Bousman directing and writing at a Syfy Channel level of quality. Cheap production values further cement that notion as THE BARRENS relies on a lot of clichés (especially regarding its dysfunctional family of characters) and some pretty cheesy effects. The latter of which extend from both CGI to the practical work. I don’t want to spoil this film for potential viewers, so I won’t reveal too much. I will say that I didn’t buy any of the special effects in this film. Even the rain looked like it was added in post as a quick afterthought.
To Bousman’s credit as a writer, THE BARRENS does try to buck the trend and throw a psychological aspect into what might have been just another corny monster movie. This is aided by Stephen Moyer (from TRUE BLOOD fame) who does seem to be trying to give a halfway decent performance. However, a few scenes (especially one in the prologue) sabotage the film and riddle it with convenient plot holes. The movie also cuts to quick sequences in order to try to get a jump out of viewers. This is especially annoying when the legend of the Jersey Devil is being told around a campfire and frequently cuts to flashy snippets. Really? We couldn’t just see the legend play out in a steady-cam flashback? Instead, you had to make the Jersey Devil legend look like a music video that belongs on MTV? This extends throughout the whole film though as we get nightmare sequences in which Richard finds himself running from the Jersey Devil. Speaking of which, the Devil is conveniently left off-screen for a majority of these nightmares. Though when you see the hairy puppet they use in a later dream sequence, you’ll quickly realize why they wanted to limit this shaggy muppet’s screen time.
I love the Jersey Devil. I also enjoy a number of Darren Lynn Bousman’s earlier efforts. However, he simply isn’t at his best here. If it weren’t for 11-11-11 (a supernatural horror flick that was made purely to cash in on November 11, 2011), I’d call THE BARRENS his worst film. This feels like a Syfy Channel movie that was slightly upped in quality by the casting of Stephen Moyer and brief attempts to (unsuccessfully) pull of a psychological “he might be crazy” angle. THE BARRENS simply isn’t worth your time. One day, we might receive a legitimately good movie about the Jersey Devil. Until then, I’ll just sit here waiting with my fingers crossed.