By MARK TURNER
As I started to write this week's column I was going to write about ROCK OF AGES. Then I thought why waste the space on something I didn't like much (although it did make me want to go seek out the music in my collection) when I could write about a small movie that was better? And more qualified for the Halloween season as well.
THE BARRENS, as some of you already know, is a wooded area in New Jersey set aside for camping and such. It's also well known for the existence of a creature known as the Jersey Devil. This winged man-like creature has supposedly stalked the woods for decades and paranormal investigators have sought it out for years. So it only makes sense that a horror film concern itself with the area.
Richard Vineyard (Stephen Moyer) is a father and new husband trying to unite his family. His daughter Sadie is at that age where everything is about rebellion. Tie that in with her rejection of her stepmother Cynthia (Mia Kirshner) feeling she's trying to replace her deceased mother and the son Richard and Cynthia had together, Danny, she's the typical annoying character that you hope learns about reality before the film ends. To bring this family together, Richard has decided that they are going camping in the Barrens, the place where his father took him when he was young.
As they prepare for the trip Richard seems distracted, at times even fearful of the trip even though he initiated it. Memories of his childhood in the woods seem to have a haunted moment that he can't quite remember. But the family heads out to the woods for a camping weekend. Along the way, upset that the family can't leave their gadgets behind for just a few days, he tells his wife to put away the cell phone and his daughter to take off the Ipod. This weekend is about nature.
The family arrives and sets up camp but its nothing like Richard remembers. Instead of the isolated campground that he recalled there are tons of families here for the weekend. When he finds his daughter flirting with a young man in the campground area, he insists that they move deeper into the woods to be more secluded.
As the trip proceeds Richard gets more distracted, breaking out in a sweat and behaving unusual. It isn't until later that the cause is revealed, at least part of it. Is there something physically wrong with Richard? Something mentally disturbing? Or is he truly the victim of the Jersey Devil whose story is told around the campfire one night?
It's these questions and watching to find clues for the answer that make this film work so well. You never know if there is something creeping in the woods or if Richard has lost it. As bodies begin to turn up gutted, torn to shreds, you remember Richard playing with his knife and start to consider he's gone mad. Then again perhaps it was this creature that shredded its victims. The final solution to the mystery should satisfy everyone.
The movie builds up at a slow pace, increasing the tension as you watch. You not only fear what will happen to those around this family but what will happen to the family itself. Each actor does a wonderful job in the roles given but Moyers stands out as the head of the house that seems to be just tipping over the edge with each scene. Every supporting actor does a great job as well convincingly playing victims of one kind or another.
One negative note that can be corrected. Included in the film is an alternate ending. While watching that I felt that it should have been tacked on as well. It would have made the ending of the film better even though it's still got enough surprises to hold your interest until the end.
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