The Barrens Blu-Ray Review (Kirk Haviland)

The Barrens Blu-Ray

Starring Stephen Moyer, Mia Kirshner, Allie MacDonald, Peter DaCunha, Erik Knudson, Chantelle Chung, David Keeley and Shawn Ashmore

Written and Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

New this week to DVD and Blu-Ray from Anchor Bay Entertainment comes The Barrens. This take on the classic campfire stories that have dominated family camping outings for decades comes from the enigmatic Darren Lynn Bousman, more known for his inconsistency than any one film in particular. So what does the director of Saw 2-4, the divisive Repo, The Genetic Opera and the outright abysmal 11-11-11 have in store for us this time?

It’s known as the Jersey Devil, the long rumoured winged beast spawned 400 years ago, supposedly by Satan himself. The stories claim it came about after a woman known as Mother Leeds had 13 children, but she offered up the 13th child to the Devil as a sacrifice. Some say this creature still inhabits the dense pine forests of southern New Jersey, where Richard Vineyard (Moyer) takes his family for a rustic weekend camping trip so he can spread his father’s ashes where he camped as a child. As the Vineyard family ventures further into the woods in search of the perfect campsite, at Richard’s behest, we see that Richard may have a hidden agenda, as his grip on reality starts to slip away. It would appear The Jersey Devil may not just be a story for Richard. With his paranoia growing he manages to put everyone he loves, wife Cynthia (Kirshner), daughter Sadie (MacDonald) and son Danny (DaCunha) in real danger. But when Sadie’s friend Ryan (Knudsen) goes missing, Richard is convinced it’s the work of the Jersey Devil. But is the legend of the Jersey Devil real, or is it just another of Richard’s growing delusions?

The Barrens is a low budget indie horror that wears this fact proudly on its sleeve. Using cost effective locations like the forest and a minimal amount of Computer Generated Images (CGI), using the practical effect of a man in a rubber suit for the Devil, you can see how the production was able to come in at a reasonable cost. Getting Moyer, straight off of HBO’s True Blood, is probably one of the most costly expenditures the production had. And Moyer was definitely wise choice, for the 85% of the film where he is allowed to show some range and depth he does well, but it really falls apart for Moyer towards the end. The beginning is actually quite slow, so thankfully we have Moyer there, but as the films ramps up the writing for Richard gets more tedious and ridiculous. The rest of the cast are decent enough, Kirshner may have been coasting a bit in parts and the kids aren’t going to win any awards in the near future, but their work is solid enough. The script is hardly original, the cursed creature in the woods attacking people, is it real or just the paranoid guy’s mind, we’ve seen this before. This time around it works, for periods at a time, but not the whole way through. When the Devil attacks come (when the CGI creeps in) it looks like a Scy-Fi network film. And the suit looks great on angular shots, but very underwhelming in up front shots.

For Blu-Ray extras we get barely anything here, an audio commentary with director Darren Lynn Bousman and director of photography Joseph White and a trailer.

Overall The Barrens is much like eating at a buffet, not all the offerings look appetizing and others leave a bad taste in the mouth, and you usually leave full but not 100% satisfied. While I cannot endorse a buy, a late night cheapie rental may be in order. The Barrens gets a very mild recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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The Day – Post-apocalyptic action from Douglas Aarniokoski

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I wanted to like Douglas Aarniokoski’s The Day, I really did. The stills looked awesome. The action promised to take place almost solely at an abandoned farm house, and regular readers will know that I absolutely LOVE films that use a single location effectively. The film also had a few big names in the cast and an all Canadian crew, what’s not to like? Quite a bit, it turns out. The Day is a generic post-apocalyptic film that holds its cards very close to the chest until the final scenes, at which point it is too little too late.

SPOILERS

The film tells the story of a group of five survivors (Shawn Ashmore, Ashley Bell, Cory Hardrict, Dominic Monaghan and Shannyn Sossamon) on the run from an unknown enemy. The earth they traverse is a dead world that doesn’t even seem to be populated by small furry animals any longer, let alone other human beings. An illness of one of the survivors forces the group to take refuge in a desolate farm house for the night. Internal conflicts begin to eat at the group from the inside, while a siege of the farmhouse threatens to destroy them from the outside. Unfortunately, this interesting premise turned into an exercise in patience, as I waited for the group of survivors to die and the credits to roll.

I feel bad being hard on this film because it was clearly a labour of love for some, director Aarniokoski for example, but was not taken nearly as seriously by others, Shannyn Sossamon and writer Luke Passmore in particular. The acting in The Day was inconsistent throughout the entire film. What I’m sure was supposed to be the lack of hope that comes with a post-apocalyptic world, came across as an absurd calm in the actors that was comical at times. Sossamon’s lines in particular sounded like they were from a screen test. She should have just joined the rest of the cast and crew via Skype during filming, I’m sure it would have been just as effective. However, the real culprit behind the ineffectiveness of The Day was the script.

The intriguing set up and ingenious trap at the beginning of the film are completely wasted, as the script completely falls apart when the central characters must meaningfully interact. Relationships and allegiances change at the drop of a dime, profanity is exchanged to simply fill the silence, there are an inordinate number of pointy sticks used as weapons in the film, and the token black guy delivers stereotypical lines. However, these aren’t even the most enraging aspects of the script.

Ammo conservation is a constant topic between the characters, after all, where are they going to get more? Then why o’ why do two of the main characters unload their last 4-5 shots into a group of harmless baddies that have gotten stuck in the basement of the farmhouse, when there are plenty of armed baddies still outside? Have they never played Resident Evil before? Conserve your damn ammo or you’re dead! At the same time, maybe they are aware of the importance of ammo, at least if they were it would explain why the main characters never miss a shot with their guns! One maddening scene in particular has a feverish Cory Hardrict seeing in blurry double vision, yet he still manages to pull off what seems like three head-shots in rapid succession. Add to this a cowardly lead villain that is probably afraid of his own shadow, hence his reluctance to attack the heroes himself, and you have a script that should have been lucky to be considered a first draft.

Finally, I do actually have some good things to day about The Day. The colour palette and set design of the film are appropriately bleak and manage to absorb the viewer into the deserted world. Also, the action at the finale is quite good and shows what the special effects crew and Aarniokoski are capable of. It is unfortunate that they waited until the end as it may have made the script more tolerable if these accomplished action scenes and effects were scattered throughout the film.

If you are a fan of post-apocalyptic films then you may enjoy The Day. In particular fans who vehemently defend post-apocalyptic films, while being impervious to reason and other points of view should love it. If on the other hand you merely dabble in post-apocalyptic films, like myself, then steer clear of this one and go watch Road Warrior or play Fallout 3 to get your fix.

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