October 13, 2012

Blu-ray Review: The Barrens

Director Darren Lynn Bousman is an interesting individual. After rising to prominence directing Saw II, III, and IV, he bypassed the studio pictures in favor of more personal projects. For example, after the Saw movies, he made a weird horror/science fiction/musical called Repo! The Genetic Opera. Certainly an odd choice and one that did not pay off in popularity, although I really enjoyed it. This movie is another example of a personal project. The Barrens is a movie that Bousman has said he's wanted to make since Saw II.

The Barrens is set in southern New Jersey in the Pine Barrens, specifically Wharton State Park. It is a real park; however, it is not where they shot. While the setting of the tale is a real place, they were unable to shoot there, instead they shot in Vancouver, Canada. It is a sad thing and Darren Bousman speaks to that fact on the commentary track.

The Pine Barrens is where the mythical monster The Jersey Devil is said to roam. I would not exactly call this a monster movie, but the legend of the monster hangs like a specter over the entire film. If this movie lies on the shadow of the Jersey Devil (a monster still waiting for a definitive movie) but isn't really a monster movie, what is it? The best way to describe it would probably be to call it The Shining meets The Blair Witch Project. It isn't found footage, but it is almost exclusively set in the woods and it definitely features some madness.

Richard Vineyard (Stephen Moyer) has fond memories of his father taking him to the barrens to camp as a child. Years later, with a family of his own, he wants to take them camping like he did as child, to share his joys. Well, when they get to the campgrounds, Richard discovers it is not the same place that it used to be. The camp is overrun with families and mobile technology.

In an effort to reconnect with his childhood and the idea of camping in the first place, Richard packs the family up and heads deeper into the woods. This is a turning point as real danger begins to creep in.

I don't want to give it all away, as the movie is quietly interesting. I do not think it is a rear movie by any stretch, but there is something rather involving about it. We get a nice campfire scene where the Jersey Devil tale is told. We have a main character who is hallucinating and literally falling apart on front of us. Everything adds up to a slow burn thriller with some subtle monster elements.

Stephen Moyer really carries the movie. He gives us a pretty intense character and to watch him seemingly go nuttier and nuttier is pretty impressive. He is actually a little scary. The rest of he cast is solid as well, including Mia Kirshner, Allie MacDonald, and Erik Knudsen.

The Barrens is a solid tale of a mans descent into madness. It is constructed in a way that you never quite know what the reality is. Is the monster real? Is it all in his head? There is enough evidence to go either way.

Audio/Video. The movie is presented in a ratio of 1.78:1 and the transfer is quite nice. The movie was shot on 16mm film and it looks like it. The movie has a lot of grain, particularly noticeable in the last third. I like it. The grain gives a wonderfully texture to the building madness of the main character. Considering the source, the detail is not always the greatest, but it still has a good overall look. The colors tend towards the cold side and it helps add to the effect. It is not exactly a big high def looking movie, but it looks the way it needs to.

The audio track is a Dolby TruHD 5.1 presentation and it is quite nice. There is a good immersive quality to the track, the ambiance of the forest comes all around from the activity of the camp to the sounds of birds and rustling leaves, it is a solid track with clear dialogue.

  • Commentary. The track features writer/director Darren Lynn Bousman and director of photography Joseph White. It is a really good and honest track. The conversation covers a lot of ground from specifics about the shots, to the actors and performances, to the music, and a lot of details surrounding the production.
  • Deleted scene. Available with director commentary.

Bottomline. This is a good movie. It is not exactly what I expected, but there is a nice build up of tension and the central performance is fascinating. It is a movie I do not really expect to revisit much, but it is still one worth checking out.


Article first published as Blu-ray Review: The Barrens on Blogcritics.

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