Friday, October 24, 2014

#1,530. The Barrens (2012)

Directed By: Darren Lynn Bousman

Starring: Stephen Moyer, Mia Kirshner, Allie MacDonald

Tag line: "The terrifying legend of the Jersey Devil is alive"

Trivia: A majority of the scenes were done in a single take

Every summer, I take the family to the Jersey Shore for a week's vacation. To get there, we first have to drive through a sizable portion of the Pine Barrens, a heavily wooded area that covers well over a million acres of Southern New Jersey. Along with its endless supply of fresh water, the Pine Barrens is also the alleged home of a creature known as the Jersey Devil, a monstrous being that has been sighted in the area time and again since 1735, the year it was supposedly "born".

The Barrens, a 2012 horror film, introduces us to Richard (Stephen Moyer), who believes that, as a child, he had a run-in with the Jersey Devil during one of his many fishing trips to the area. Returning to the Barrens for a weekend of camping with his wife Cynthia (Mia Kirshner), daughter Sadie (Allie MacDonald) and young son Danny (Peter DaCunha), Richard becomes increasingly convinced that the creature is back, and is stalking his family.

But has the beast actually returned, or is something else clouding Richard's mind?

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, The Barrens is as much a psychological thriller as it is a horror film, focusing on its main character as he struggles to figure out what’s really going on around him. Stephen Moyer delivers an excellent performance as the patriarch who, though growing sicker by the day, is doing everything he can to keep his family safe, never quite realizing that he himself may be the very monster threatening their well-being.

Over the course of the movie, Richard deteriorates before our eyes, both physically (we learn he suffered an injury several weeks earlier that, if not treated soon, could prove fatal) and emotionally (his jealousy often gets the better of him. At one point, he catches Cynthia on her cell phone. Accusing her of talking with a male friend he had forbidden her to contact, Richard grabs the phone and, in a fit of rage, tosses it into the surrounding woods). Moyer successfully conveys these changes in his character’s personality, taking what at first had been a loving husband and nurturing parent and turning him into something much more terrifying.

Yet, through it all, Bousman continually reminds us there may, in fact, be more going on here than meets the eye. Starting with an early scene around a fire, where fellow camper Ryan (Erik Knudson) and his pals relate the legend of the Jersey Devil, we are never quite sure if the events that follow are, indeed, the work of a mentally unstable Richard, or if someone - or something -  much more sinister is at play.

There are times when we catch a glimpse of the creature (which, for a low-budget film, looks pretty good), but seeing as Richard is the only one who encounters it, we don’t know if its real or a figment of his imagination. The tension increases as Richard, hoping to escape the crowded campsite, leads his family deeper into the woods, where they come across an abandoned tent (which  has been torn to shreds) and a dead dog tied to a tree. Clearly, something very bad happened here, and it’s to director Bousman’s credit that he manages to keep us guessing even when we think we have it all figured out.

An edgy, frightening motion picture, The Barrens has me looking at the Pine Barrens in a way I never had before. It's guaranteed that the next time I’m driving through South Jersey, I’ll be keeping an eye out for more than State Troopers!

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