The Barrens (2012)
The terrifying legend of the Jersey Devil is alive.
We know I like monsters. We've been over this before, unless this is your first landing to this site. Either way, I like monsters, legends, and all that sort of thing, so I couldn't really pass up a movie about the Jersey Devil. It's a bad habit really, considering the number of really cruddy movies based around all the famous cryptids and monsters out there (looking at you Bigfoot). Well, enough putting it off, let's see if this one's a keeper, or just another unfortunate horse-headed excuse of a movie.
Everything about this movie that needs to be told is learned very quickly at the opening moments. For starters, it's not going to show that much of the creature (usually a good idea), it will show you a bunch of dead animals (it's like the deer holocaust, I swear) regardless of how real or blatant CG they look, and you will find something to laugh at even if it's unintentional on the movies part. Really though, how can you not laugh at some woman running her legs off and somehow managing to slam headfirst into a tree? That's pure idiot gold!
Of course, the premise that you get sold to watch the movie is that it's about the Jersey Devil, but you quickly find post title screen that it's less about the cloven hoofed flyer and more about a guy and his family taking a vacation to it's stomping grounds. Apparently, the family is falling apart and the father really needs them all to get along and go on this camping trip where he plans on dumping his father's ashes in the lake they used to visit all the time. It's pretty cliche feeling, and you should get used to it because there's going to be a lot of that going on in this movie. Low and behold, when they get there things only really seem like they get worse as the dad keeps getting more and more agitated and most his family would rather be doing something else. It then quickly throws into a "will they survive" story line with a few interesting nods in it, but not exactly the most polished rendition of them.
There's a lot of guessing back and forth as to if the Devil is a real thing in the woods - I mean, not really now that I think of it. The entire movie spends most it's time going "Hey, look, although we aren't showing it on screen the Devil is totally a thing alright?" Towards the later chunk of it, suddenly it decides that it wants to try and convince you that maybe it doesn't exist and it's really just a crazy person - but at this point it's already done enough to show that it is the Devil (despite it's lack of on screen presence for the most part) via previous deer genocide and "bear attacks" mentioned or shown before that we, the audience, already know the Devil's a thing. It would be an interesting twist, for sure, but it's handled almost like an after thought and in turn doesn't really come off impressive in this go round.
The actors in this thing are kinda not that great. It definitely has that budget movie kind of feel - like something you'd catch and possibly guilty pleasure on the SyFy channel - when you look at the acting jobs. Of course, we get a kid actor that is more reminiscent of the olden days children actors than those more modern - he's not quite as annoying, but that's mostly just because the story seem to only give him a few lines and otherwise focus it's lens elsewhere. The best scene when it comes to acting in my opinion is probably the "ghost stories" section, with a campfire-side tale of the Devil's origins as well as some nice reactions from the gathered campers as it goes about it. Heck, even the father's over-reaction at least feels slightly justified at this point, and the rest of the film quickly descends into what you'd expect out of quick horror movie - passable at best, but no real moments to pop out and shine.
As alluded to earlier on, the effect scale is pretty wobbly in this. Although there's a few moments where deer could potentially be real deer on set, there's more moments when the dear are pretty fake looking. Likewise, the Jersey Devil itself looks great in some shots - mostly those of just it's head or sometimes flicking about in the background - and at others looks like they should have left it as just a head. Beyond that, there's plenty of use of "guts" on both dead people and animals. It's not always convincing, but it's certainly there. The only other real bit of effects beyond dead critters would be a couple of wounds that do look pretty painful, and the makeup on the crazy to help sell the degradation into madness that also adds pretty well to the feel.
Audio is balanced rather well, down to being able to hear the occasional wing flap or Predator style snarl in the background while characters start to get paranoid about things out there. The soundtrack is a pretty nice orchestral one, and has some pretty good moments of making things spooky without resulting to the typical crescendos or sudden hyper-loud string use. For what it's worth, the movie actually does a pretty good job of not throwing jump scares at you, and at most I feel like it only comes up once if at all in an intentional use. Also pertaining to the sound department is a bit of use of the old muffled tinnitus ringing during a gun shot later on. It's a little over-exaggerated I think, but they don't overuse it and by the next scene they've already gotten rid of it. It's sort of a nice touch.
Overall, the kind of person that wants to watch this movie is going to end up watching it without a review. It's not good enough that I would intentionally recommend it to anyone, but not bad enough that I would distinctly caution anyone against watching it either - it's got some nice touches, but as a whole it's pretty patchwork. The plot is easy enough to follow and amongst it strings lies a few nice beads of ideas, and it manages to space those out enough that you don't become too awfully bored during it's run time. I'm convinced that there's a better Jersey Devil movie out there, but I can for sure tell you that there are worse Jersey Devil movies out there.