The Barrens (2012)

My personal level of zealotry on this issue is still evolving, but of this much I am sure: only lazy critics reveal plot spoilers and only people who don’t give a shit about the quality of their entertainment read them. I’m not even talking about big twists and surprises. I would argue it’s out of bounds to give away any details that (A) aren’t immediately obvious and (B) are intended to be dramatic when revealed. It is not the reviewers place to determine which secrets are worth keeping.

And if you’re the sort who loves movies so much you dissect trailers and read leaked plot summaries, you’re doing it wrong. A steady drip of information may satisfy your addiction but you’re robbing yourself of the full impact of the story. Knock it off.

The Barrens, which is not terrible, turns on a massive plot point that is not immediately known to the characters (though it is abundantly clear to any audience members with even a few firing neurons in their heads). It’s excruciatingly tempting to talk about it because it’s the single worst part of an otherwise decent movie. Alas, I cannot. But I can make oblique references how fucking infuriating it is.

Sorry for the smirk, I just got done plowing Sookie.

The story: Hey, it’s Vampire Bill! Stephen Moyer, whose agent needs to be slapped, finds himself in yet another genre role. (Seriously, get this man a romantic comedy or something. He’s one Uwe Bol video game adaptation away from signing autographs at DragonCon for the rest of his life.) After the shock of hearing him speak in his native British accent fades, we learn that his bratty teenage daughter doesn’t get along with her stepmom, despite having had seven years to get used to the idea. His surefire solution? A family camping trip to the charming Pine Barrens. Maybe next year he can take them all hiking on the Trail of Tears.

Of course, there might not be a next year: it seems there’s something in the woods disemboweling wildlife. Dad never considers canceling the trip but it does make him wonder, could the stories of the Jersey Devil be true? My money is on definitely, because a man-eating kangaroo with bat wings is totally something that could evade detection for hundreds of years.

Think it’s still waterproof?

Biggest letdown: I get a boner for monster movies, the more straightforward the better. (The movie, not the boner. Well, both I guess.) You wanna make a movie about a tour group getting devoured by Ogopogo? That is a phenomenal idea and I will donate to your Kickstarter campaign. Give me glimpses of fins, underwater shots of swimmers, and a big explosion at the end and we will be best friends forever. THIS IS NOT DIFFICULT.

So I get really annoyed when some screenwriter decides his monster movie needs more than just discovering, confronting and escaping a hideous cryptid to be complete. A common way to spice things up is to suggest that maybe there is no monster, maybe one of the characters is behind the whole thing. PROVOCATIVE. So instead of pursuing one angle with gusto, the script has to make both explanations seem equally plausible until the obligatory multi-twist denouement makes everyone go what the fuck. This dual approach works in a drama like Take Shelter, where the psychological conflict generated by the two possibilities is the chief selling point. But when you come to see a monster movie and you have to spend 90 minutes wondering if the whole thing will turn out to be Bob Newhart’s elaborate dream sequence, you tend to feel a little alienated.

Bet it’s the little kid. No one ever suspects the little kid.

Very early on, we know the dad in The Barrens isn’t quite right. (Ugh, even THAT is closer to a spoiler than I like to get.) He’s combative for no reason and he sees the Jersey Devil behind every tree. So immediately we’re forced to wonder, is the monster really there, or is daddy dearest the one shredding the local fauna? Leaving aside how little sense that makes, is anything gained by raising the possibility that what we’re watching isn’t a monster movie at all, but a cheap knockoff of The Shining? Factor in the super obvious revelation-that-must-not-be-named I alluded to earlier, and you begin to feel like the makers of this movie don’t have much respect for their target audience.

Whatever it is, it likes to cover its victims in sausage links.

Why you should watch: I can’t stand how horror movies – really Hollywood movies in general – seem compelled to feature only beautiful people. I know it’s a tired complaint but it merits repeating. There are gorgeous humans in the world and it’s safe to assume dramatic or funny or scary things happen to them just like everybody else. But isn’t it more interesting to see situations that feature ordinary looking people you can identify with? I mean, I look EXACTLY like Brad Pitt but most people don’t. Constantly casting only beautiful people has a numbing effect, to the point where a character who is supposed to appear exceptionally attractive for an important dramatic purpose becomes indiscernible from the rest of the runway models in the cast. It’s like pouring salt on everything you eat. Yes, salt is delicious and most food is zestier with it, but you have to be selective in applying it or everything starts to taste the same. Also, it will eventually make your heart explode.

Needs salt.

That brings me to Mia Kirshner, who plays the mom in The Barrens. She’s really quite good and, while she is certainly pretty enough to make a plausible companion to Vampire Bill’s rockstar good looks, she definitely has a bit of mommy physique going on. I’m not sure if that’s what sold me on her or if it was just that her stolid reasonableness anchors the narrative so her husband can be free to wig out every five minutes. Either way, she’s the best member of the cast and the movie would border on made-for-TV terrible without her.

Okay honey, you hold down the fort. I’ll just be over there, losing my mind.

Memorable Moment: Erik Knudsen, the raccoon-eyed kid from Jericho, is in this movie. Oddly, he doesn’t seem to have grown or aged at all in six years. He’s still about four feet tall and looks to weigh about 85 pounds, including chain wallet and beanie. He plays some punker the family meets  and it’s his job to give us the perfunctory campfire lecture about the Jersey Devil. It is painful but there is a payoff. Later on, dad gets a moment alone with the scruffy hipster, who has been flirting rather openly with daddy’s little girl. Dad takes the opportunity to relay his version of the Jersey Devil’s origin, and it’s a damn sight more intimidating. It helps that he’s is a little unhinged and could at any moment decide to stab the little bastard.

Do you hear that? It sounds like the noise that immediately precedes me punching you in the dick.

Choice quote: A memo to writer-director Darren Lynn Bousman: word choice matters. Punk kids don’t say things like “It’s true! There have been countless sightings over the years!” Countless? Really? Because that’s a word teenagers commonly employ. I suppose it goes well with the 50-year-old father of two who calls one of those teenagers a douchebag. Maybe I missed the biggest twist of all and this movie is really a remake of Like Father, Like Son.

Oh fine, here you go: “Seriously, I mean what the fuck is this shit? No, this is fucked! Dead deer, dead dogs, and all this Blair Witch crazy shit hanging from trees?”

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3 Responses to “The Barrens (2012)”

  1. […] The Barrens – It’s always the dad who comes unglued in these movies and that is sexist. […]

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