Darren Lynn Bousman’s latest film sees the director deviating from the ultra-violence he dished out to us in his Saw sequels and Mother’s Day, and away from the crooning deviants of Repo! The Genetic Opera and The Devil’s Carnival for something that quietly creeps under your skin in The Barrens (coming to DVD/Blu-ray Tuesday, October 9th).
Balancing a family drama with Jersey Devil folklore, the film stars True Blood‘s Stephen Moyer as a dad who takes his wife and kids on a camping excursion in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens. As their trip goes on, his demeanor takes a drastic turn and something lurking in the woods begins to make itself known, leaving a trail of bodies in its wake.
Head inside for our discussion with the writer and director…
Shock: What was the driving force behind wanting to do a creature feature? Did you feel the Jersey Devil had not been properly executed on screen?
Darren Lynn Bousman: I knew that I wanted to do somewhat of a monster film, however, that being said, I wanted to do a monster film where the monster took the backseat to the story itself. In this case, it was a dysfunctional family, but I wanted to do a movie about basically a guy losing his shit. The movie was about a dysfunctional father set against a monster story, not the other way around, which I think could’ve been done, which is a monster movie, but had a dysfunctional father in it. To me it was all about – if you can remove the gimmick, the movie still has to work. So, in the case of something like Repo! [The Genetic Opera] if you take Repo!, if you remove the singing – the gimmick – does the movie still work? Is there still a story there? In this case, if I’m going to do a monster movie, can I remove the monster? Can I take the monster completely out and the story and characters still work. And then, trying to find a cryptozoology creature that would work for that. I don’t feel that the Jersey Devil’s been exploited as much as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster or Chupacabra or any of those other films. The Jersey Devil’s still kind of an untapped resource. So, I thought that would’ve been a perfect one to kind of set this story against.
Shock: Were there other cryptozoological creatures that you heavily considered before you settled on the Jersey Devil?
Bousman: No, not really. I always liked the Jersey Devil. I think what’s cool about the Jersey Devil is if you do any research on it, it has more reputable sightings from reputable sources than any cryptozoology creature. If you go back from the 1700s, there are eyewitness accounts from very credible people and they’re all strikingly similar. Also, I think it’s fascinating that every single year we find new species of fish, new species of insects, birds and things that we thought were extinct, and they find these things because the region in which we live in is so vast and dense. I think one of the things that excited me the most about the Jersey Devil was when I was doing research on it, we found a picture that was from like, 1930, and it was a man who had just killed something and he was standing next to it and it looked like a monster. It looked like a fucking monster. I want to say it was a bison that had a skin disease and had lost the hair or the fur on it, which caused it to be susceptible to sunburn. It got so sun burned since it’s outside all the time and it had nothing to protect it, it grew boils on its body. The boils then popped and formed scars. The scars all over the thing’s body caused it to become basically insane. It was in so much pain, the thing basically went mad. It tried to basically ram itself into things. It became deformed. And so, you look at this creature that upon a look, looks like a monster, but when you actually pull it apart, this thing’s living in the wild that was just this mauled, mutilated creature. I think that was kind of the why I liked the Jersey Devil is you could do something like that. The thing could be some demonic thing living in the woods or it could be a water buffalo that has become extremely plagued with disease. I think that to me, that’s always the most exciting thing about these creatures, is the mythology that surrounds them. Is it real? Is it a mauled animal? Is it a demonic force? I think that the Jersey Devil was just – it had all those things that I was looking for.
Shock: With the SAW films you directed, and the musicals, you established a certain visual style for yourself. What did you want to do different here?
Bousman: Do something that’s a lot more simplistic, a lot more small. And the fact that I’ve done Repo!, which is, you know, some other-worldly futuristic rock opera. I’ve done Mother’s Day, which had 15 characters in it and each character is pretty much a lead. And I wanted to do something in this which is a lot smaller in scope. It’s four actors basically in the woods. And it’s all outside. Everything I’ve done up to this point has pretty much been on sound stages, and I think that this is the first completely location shoot that I’ve ever done. I think that that was its own set of challenges. Shooting the thing was a f**king nightmare. We shot the whole thing outside, and we were plagued by anything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Rain storms constantly causing us to stop shooting, the weather itself was freezing outside. You have characters running around with next to nothing getting in and out of water. I mean, it was horrendous. I think to me, it was just expanding my scope of what my knowledge base.
Shock: How did Moyer initially respond to the script when you first brought it to him?
Bousman: He was great. I think that Moyer…I have tremendous respect for this dude. He is such a f**king awesome, awesome guy. He’s one of those kind of actors that after you yelled cut, he wouldn’t go back to his trailer. He would sit there and want to be on set as much as humanely possible. I think that that to me is a great trait in an actor. He was there not only for the job, but as a team player in this. He was not one of those prima donnas, I think. I guess that my perception was that here’s a guy on True Blood, one of the most popular TV shows, on the front of magazines and all over the place. I didn’t know what it was going to be like working with him and he was awesome and he really responded to the material. I think that he saw it as well for a chance to do more than he gets to do on someone like Bill Compton, who is just this vampire guy and all of a sudden here he is, playing this father with extreme emotional range.
Shock: Talk about designing the Jersey Devil itself…
Bousman: You know, that’s a harsh question in the fact that a lot of – I want to say this is a spoiler for those that haven’t seen the movie… One of the problems that we ran into is, this is probably the lowest budget film I’ve done, and definitely the one I’ve shot in the quickest amount of time. When it was all said and done, we shot the movie in 16 days. We were very limited to what we could actually afford and get away with. One of the things that I wanted to do to make it practical, I didn’t want to make a CG monster. And, given our time constraint, we never saw the Jersey Devil until the day it showed up on set.
Bousman: We approved the design and then the design was based on, again, eye-witness reports and photos that people had claimed to have taken of the Jersey Devil. But when it actually showed up on set, the thing weighed hundreds of pounds and the actor that was in it couldn’t move in the costume. The idea originally was just to run, leap and chase and all that other shit. But, it got to a point that you couldn’t move in the suit. It literally was so heavy and so awkward that you were limited to basically 25 degree freedom of motion in it. It limited a lot of what the original plans were, which was just to jump out of trees and do all these other things. It took six guys to operate it, or five guys to operate it, one on each foot, one on each wing, and then someone inside the suit itself. I think that that limited us to a lot of I think the initial idea with it. But that being said, I mean, the Jersey Devil’s only in the movie. It’s less than a minute in the entire movie. So, I think it worked out fine for us because of how much we were not showing the Jersey Devil. I hope that answers your question.
Shock: You just recently tweeted that you’re writing something new?
Bousman: Yes, I have two new things. I’ve started to write a lot more, and I’ve sold a couple of screenplays, which is exciting. The one that I’ve just finished, that we just sold is not a horror film at all. It’s a paranoid thriller. It’s like, very much like The Game or The Firm or Parallax View. And that’s called Bystander Effect, which that’s done and that’s finished. That’s really exciting, which we hope to make next year. And then, I’m writing another movie. I can’t go into a lot of detail, but again, it’s a new movie that I’ve never done before and a new style of filmmaking, which I’ve never done.