“The monster is you.”
The Barrens is a tight horror thriller that plays off stereotypical aspects found in numerous horror films regarding family, paranoia and beasts in the woods in very non-stereotypical ways.
The cool thing about The Barrens is that up until the ending payoff (which is literally the end of the movie) you are guessing about what is really happening. Something that is extremely difficult to do in these days where trailers alone give away an entire movie.
The overlying plot is familiar: The Vineyard family is struggling with typical family issues is looking to take a vacation in order to re-connect and get away from all the hustle and bustle of their lives – including all the gadgets that have become all too familiar in our daily lives. So they go camping in the Pine Barrens, a forest in the southern part of New Jersey.
When they arrive, it is anything but a dream camping trip as the spot they choose just happens to be where a slew of other campers are located all with iPhones, iPads and other things making it extremely uncomfortable for Richard Vineyard (True Blood’s Stephen Moyer) who really wants it to be a peaceful time.
During the first night around a campfire, a tale is told about the Jersey Devil, a winged beast that is the spawn of the Devil after a witch gave up her 13th child in order to be absolved of her sins.
While a spooky campfire story indeed, for Richard it sets off a series of flashbacks to his childhood and a portion of his past that was traumatic (something that is never fully established but we get enough to know it impacted him severely). Richard becomes paranoid. He believes his wife is cheating on him and that there is “something” indeed in the forest and is pursuing him.
Journeying deeper into the forest, the Vineyards set up camp in a more secluded location where Richard’s dementia and paranoia get worse. We learn he was bitten by the house dog that had to be put down because it had rabies.
So does Richard now have rabies? Is he going out at night and causing many of the other campers to go mysteriously missing? Or is something else in the woods praying on unknowing campers?
What follows is a guessing game that is one part maniacal thriller, one part Blair Witch (with even a nod to the movie in one of the lines of dialogue) and one part supernatural creature horror.
Again, up until the last few moments of the film, we simply don’t know. It only gets worst as Richard’s mental state deteriorates and his family, including hot wife Mia Kirschner only suspect the worst.
Kudos to Moyer in this film. He really sells the character and shows that he can indeed be more than just a two-pronged actor as he is in True Blood (Sookie, Sookie, Sookie or vampire, vampire, vampire). The anguish over his mental state and his untrusting family is written all over his face. Simultaneously, he is incredibly sinister and sad. It is a fascinating and impressive feat, especially for a direct-to-video affair.
While it drags a bit in the middle, the practical special effects are a nice change of pace (although there is some low-quality CG here too) and the production quality is top notch.