How To Ruin Your Own Movie - The Barrens Edition

The Barrens opens with an important reminder of Count Vardulon's Rule of Vacations - Don't go on one with either of the Ashmore brothers. It's not going to go well for any of you. In this case, Shawn and his girlfriend are out in the Pine Barrens, walking off the official trail when they come across a pile of torn-apart animal corpses.

Things get even more unpleasant when a mortally wounded deer bolts out of the woods and collapses right on the trail - no doubt it was fleeing from whatever left the huge pile of bodies.

Then the teaser ends with a shadow passing over the girlfriend's face as she looks up and sees something enormous flying over her head. The implication is clear - there's a monster in these woods slaughtering animals, and the two of them are next!

At first glance, this sounds like the furthest thing from a 'How to Ruin Your Own Movie' post - after all, what's wrong with teasing the monster's presence at the beginning of a monster movie? Nothing - if you're making a monster movie. But Darren Lynn Bousman isn't doing that. Instead, he's making a horror movie about a man's declining mental state-

Bill Compton takes his family camping in the New Jersey park where he spent childhood summers, and while there grows increasingly mad and murderous as he suffers the effects of a rabid dog's bite he received some weeks earlier! There's nothing particularly wrong with that premise, were it not attached to the film's teaser. Throughout the film's running time the plot wants to create uncertainty in the viewer's mind, raising some question as to whether there's actually a giant monster in the woods, or if the frequent glimpses of it are all the product of a fevered man's imagination.

That's a perfectly valid card to play, or at least it would be if the film hadn't established with the teaser that there is, in fact, a monster running around the woods slaughtering animals and people. Armed with that knowledge, the viewer can't help but spend the entire movie thinking 'okay, family disintegration, fine, but when's the monster getting here?'

Trapped in that mindset, the monster's sudden appearance at the end of the film-

Is less of a mindblower in the 'Oh my god, there really was a monster' sense than it is a relief - "Well, it's about damn time-" that quickly turns into a disappointment when the viewer realizes that the movie isn't going to spend any time with the monster, but rather call it quits just one minutes after his first appearance.

Darren Lynn Bousman made a name for himself with Saw 2 - imagine if that film had opened with Amanda helping Jigsaw load Donnie Wahlberg's son into the safe in the middle of their elevator lair? I have a feeling that would have taken a lot of the sting out of the movie's ending. So how and when exactly did DLB forget how to structure a film?

Perhaps this opening was forced on him by producers that demanded an opening scare no matter how much it sabotaged the rest of the film. If so, you have my sympathies, DLB.

1 comment:

busterggi said...

Nice to see the Jersey Devil for that fraction of a second.

Perhaps the DVD will contain the director's abridged version.