The Pine Barrens of New Jersey and the Jersey Devil have been the inspiration for many films and books over the years. F. Paul Wilson’s collection of short stories, The Barrens and Others comes to mind, as does Dante Tomaselli’s film Satan’s Playground.
The appeal of this legend isn’t so much Mrs. Leeds, who gives birth to Satan’s child, but the location of said horrors. New Jersey’s Pine Barrens is a dense forest more than a million acres in size. As man becomes more urban and modern, nature becomes scarier and more isolating. What else could possibly be lurking out there?
Richard Vineyard (Stephen Moyer) is taking his family on a camping trip in order to scatter his father’s ashes on a lake in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, a place the two spent some happy times when Richard was a child. His wife Cynthia (Mia Kirshner) and their two children (Allie MacDonald and Peter DaCuhna) collectively don’t want to take the trip for various reasons, so from the get go, things are strained among the ranks. Once the family is in the woods things start going wrong immediately; they almost hit an eviscerated deer, Richard freaks out when a group of teenagers are recounting the legend of the Jersey Devil, and then Richard starts seeing and hearing things…
A small ensemble piece, the entire cast is believable and that’s saying quite a bit, as the lot is put through some terrible things. Moyer and Kirshner are great as the troubled couple, and MacDonald and DaCuhna are true to life as their put upon children. Moyer carries the film well, his performance is nicely nuanced, and the rest of the family play off of him nicely. The young DaCuhna deserves some accolades for giving the young Danny an old soul. Children are often aware of much more than they are given credit for and his performance is genuinely affecting.
Courtesy of Anchor Bay, The Barrens on DVD looks good and has a nice detail level. Although somewhat muted in post, it has a nice realism to it and adds to the atmosphere of the film. On the audio side, this 5.1 track is really aggressive. The wonderful score really shines, but never over powers the dialogue or sound effects, of which there is plenty. Bonus features are relegated to a commentary with the director.
Director Darren Lynn Bousman is proving himself to be a daring and skilled filmmaker. After making three consecutive sequels in the Saw franchise, he no longer seems to have interest in developing films just for that audience, as made evident by Repo! The Genetic Opera and his recent films. The Barrens shows yet again that he’s worth paying attention to, as the movie is a tense drama about trust and the familial bond on the precipice of destruction. Fans of Moyer’s Bill Compton on True Blood won’t be let down as he and the rest of the cast are great in their roles. This film just confirms my decision to never visit the Pine Barrens, as nothing good ever seems to happen there.