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The Barrens

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Cast: Stephen Moyer, Mia Kirshner, and Allie MacDonald

(US DVD: 9 Oct 2012)

A legendary monster, a group of people lost in the backwoods, and a seemingly deranged patriarchal figure threatening the family institution. By all means, The Barrens is an uninspired and derivative horror film. But I bet that it will, nevertheless, manage to satisfy those undiscriminating fear flick fans that dare to watch it.

At the helm of The Barrens is none other than Darren Lynn Bousman, who is not exactly famous for being an original and imaginative filmmaker. Indeed, in the past he directed three sequels (Saw II, Saw III, and Saw IV) and one official remake (Mother’s Day). And right before The Barrens, Bousman directed 11-11-11, which was clearly inspired by The Omen franchise. That being said, we have to recognize that Bousman displays good cinematographic technique, which may be the only reason his movies don’t look like a completely waste of time and money. As a matter of fact, his films always manage to remain intriguing and entertaining.

As The Barrens begins, we are introduced to Richard Vineyard (Stephen Moyer) and his wife Cynthia (Mia Kirshner), as well as their teenager daughter Sadie (Allie MacDonald) and younger son Danny (Peter DaCunha). They are traveling on a camping trip to a creepy forest located somewhere in southern New Jersey.

As we know that The Barrens is a horror flick, we can rest assured that, sooner or later, the Vineyard family will be threatened and shattered by some unspeakable horror. Furthermore, as with many other horror films, the family institution is portrayed as broken and malfunctioning, long before the monster makes its first onscreen appearance. Such internal conflict is evident in the poor communication established between daughter and stepmother. Following typical conventions, Sadie is rebellious and stubborn, while Cynthia tries to be impartial and strict. 

At the camping site, the Vineyard family is told the story of the legendary Jersey Devil. As we are told, this monster is a Chimera that appears to be composed of the parts of several animals, including bat wings and goat hooves. Quite appropriately for this film, the Jersey Devil is the product of a wrecked family. As the legend goes, this fabled creature is the son of the Prince of Darkness, who impregnated “Mother Leeds”, the town’s prostitute. 

When some teenagers befriend Sadie, Richard decides to take his family to the deep of the woods. At this point it’s important to mention that The Barrens has a strong Freudian subtext. Indeed, a scene at the beginning of the film appears to reveal repressed sexual desires between father and daughter. And later on, the kids that made advances to Sadie start showing up dead, presumably slaughtered by the Jersey Devil.

In this matter, The Barrens remains somewhat ambiguous until the very end. In a nod to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shinning, for most of the movie we are not sure if the Jersey Devil is real, or if the patriarchal figure went off the deep end and he is actually performing the killings and mutilations. At the end, such a distinction does not matter much because it does not affect the overall sub-textual structure of the movie. One way or the other, the monster is the quintessential Freudian nightmare that expresses what critic Robin Wood called “the return of the repressed”.

For example, the movie reveals that Richard’s steadfast descent into madness was due to a bite he received from his rabid dog. Such a rationale gives a more animalistic nature to Richard’s savage behavior, in strong contrast with the cabin fever symptoms exhibited by Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) in The Shinning. As a consequence, Richard appears to be transformed into a beast driven by its overwhelming Freudian id. Indeed, let us recall that, if we subscribe to psychoanalysis, the id is defined as the personality structure that contains the most basic human instincts.

On the other hand, if the Jersey Devil is real and happens to be the culprit behind the carnage, then it symbolizes and enacts Richard’s repressed desires. That is, the monster my have a physical or metaphysical nature, but nonetheless it is portrayed as an allegory of Richard’s overpowering id.

The Barrens was recently released on Blu-ray by Anchor Bay. Typical of this high definition format, the image and audio are outstanding. In terms of extra features, this presentation only includes an informative audio commentary by Bourman and Joseph White, the film’s director of photography. Not a great film, but certainly one that will manage to entertain undiscriminating horror hounds.


Extras rating:

Marco Lanzagorta received a PhD in physics from Oxford University and has worked at prestigious research institutions in England, Italy, Switzerland, Mexico and the US. During the past 25 years, he has conducted research in physics, computer science, and neuroscience. Currently, Marco is a research physicist at a major defense research laboratory in Washington DC, and an affiliate associate professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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