This, i feel, would have been a far better title for The Barrens than…er…The Barrens. Set in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens but shot in Canada somewhere, this movie deals, in part anyway, with our old friend the Jersey Devil.
Richard, a dude portrayed by Stephen Moyer, an English actor best-known for playing the world’s fastest-aging vampire on the TV series True Blood, decides to take his family on a camping trip to the infamous Pine Barrens, purported hangout of the mythical creature said to resemble a sort of anthropomorphic horse with horns, giant bat wings and a really bad temper. And while we are at it, why is the place called the Pine Barrens anyway? It’s either got pines or it’s barren, it can’t be both! And so, once again, Americans have made fools of themselves.
But back to the movie. Richard seems like an okay guy, except that a week or so before the trip he was bitten by the family dog, who had recently been acting rather strange! Being a bit of a dumbass, not only does Richard not go to the doctor to get his bite seen to, but he doesn’t even bother to consult his wife, who seems to be a nurse! So off he, the wife, and two kiddies go to the dark and sinister woods, with a bad case of rabies festering in daddy’s arm and slowly making its way into his brain. Yes, folks! Before you know it, dad is starting to lose his temper and catching vague, brief glimpses of a certain local celebrity who may or may not actually be there. Worse than that, people start turning up with their guts ripped out of their bellies and their candles thoroughly snuffed. The question then becomes, is all the disemboweling the doing of the Jersey Devil, or the doing of Psycho Dad? In other words, is this a genuine monster movie, or is it more like Cujo, except with a small Englishman instead of a huge Saint Bernard?
Well, as we find out after much hand-wringing, Dick may be crazy as a weasel on speed, but he ain’t no killer. The Jersey Devil really is on the loose, gutting everything and everyone in sight! Just goes to show that just because you are paranoid nutjob does not mean there isn’t something big and hairy out to get you!
The Devil, when he finally appears in the last couple of minutes, is actually a pretty cool monster. Both the design and the execution are very well done, but unfortunately you don’t get to see much of the FX guys’ work as it is all shown with very fast cuts and low light. So, funnily enough, the Devil feels like something of an afterthought, and the movie might actually have been better off as just a tale of a man gone rabid. On the other hand, if there had been no Devil, if it had just been a Psycho Dad rampage, we would all have felt pretty ripped off. Damned if you do, and gutted if you don’t…
Why “The Barrens” hasn’t got more attention, i don’t know. While no classic in the making, it sports a fairly novel premise, some very effective cinematography, a couple of nice scares, and a surprisingly good performance from Moyer, who manages to come across as genuinely anguished by the fate that he fears will soon befall his family. Just goes to show, Moyer is not quite as sucky an actor as his most famous role might suggest. Hey, someone had to say it.