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THE BARRENS

THE BARRENS-United States/Canada-2012

Steven Moyer as Richard Vineyard

Mia Kirshner as Cynthia Vineyard

Erik Knudsen as Ryan (Image not from film)

Allie Macdonald as Sadie Vineyard

Peter DaCuhna (L) as Danny Vineyard

Athena Karkanis (R) as Erica

Shawn Ashmore (R) as Dale

Written and Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

The Jersey Devil was the 13th child of Mama Leeds, 

His daddy was the devil himself.

Born normal, it changed form;

Cloven hooves, horses head,

Bat wings and a forked tail. 

Pine Barrens, New Jersey

is where it calls home.

Pine Barrens, New Jersey

is where no one belongs.

If you recall, after the debacle that was 11-11-11, I was ready to write Darren Lynn Bousman off as having spent the 15 minutes of fame that he earned after Saw II, Saw III and Saw IV. 11-11-11 was a monotonous and uneventful film directed by a man with no imagination and no fucking business behind a movie camera. But I guess everyone deserves a second chance and Bousman receives that chance with The Barrens. It’s not a great film; there are no Oscars in its future and film historians will not be talking about in the same breath as Citizen Kane; but at least it gets the bad taste of “11″ out of our mouths.

Richard Vineyard (Stephen Moyer, Bill Compton of True Blood) is determined to take his family camping for the weekend. His reasons are two-fold; one is to bring himself, his daughter Sadie (Allie MacDonald, Alphas, House at the End of the Street) and his new wife Cynthia (Mia Kirshner, 30 Days of Night: Dark Days, The L Word) closer together; the other is to scatter his father’s ashes.

Vineyard and his family set up camp in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey and talk that night commences from fellow campers about the legend of the Jersey Devil, a creature said to have haunted the woods for the past 400 years. Richard overreacts to the stories and it is from there that we discover that he had his own little run-in with the beast. Pretty soon he’s acting strange; hallucinating, hearing things. He comes down with a fever and we think ‘well that explains it; he’s not in his right mind’. Then the bodies turn up with their entrails ripped out. Is Vineyard responsible; or is the Jersey Devil all too real.

Okay, so looking back I can see that the whole premise is about as dumb as a retarded box of rocks, but Bousman actually manages to keep it together and keeps us guessing until the very end. After the predictability that was 11-11-11, I have to give kudos to the old boy. I also have to give props to whoever decided to make Moyer’s character British. Moyer actually is from Brentwood, Essex, England and I believe the writers knew that if they gave Vineyard an American accent that viewers would associate it with his character from True Blood.

In the end, The Barrens boils down to good, dumb Bousman fun.

TRIVIA

Darren Lynn Bousman’s earlier cut of this movie was only 81 minutes long.

Darren Lynn Bousman originally wanted to shoot the film in the actual Pine Barrens of New Jersey.

There were more shots of the Jersey Devil in an earlier version of the movie.

A majority of the scenes were done in a single take.

As an added treat, ladies and gentlemen Mr. Bruce Springsteen and A Night With The Jersey Devil:

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11-11-11

11-11-11-United States/Spain-2011

Timothy Gibbs as Joseph Crone

Michael Landes as Samuel Crone

Wendy Glenn as Sadie

Written and directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

If you weren’t aware of it by now, Darren Lynn Bousman’s fifteen minutes of fame have expired. Of course I must remind you that those minutes were aided by the fact that he directed three sequels of the “Saw” franchise, an already popular yet waning series. So, needless to say, he had a little help with that Warhol-esque time in his life and career.

He’s on his own with “11-11-11″ , a doomsday yawner about a man who had lost his faith, finds coincidence in the titular numbers and then regains a degree of that faith only to be duped by it all in the end. Trust me; I’m not giving away the ending. You can’t give away something that you see coming from a mile off in the distance. Seeing as how most horror films nowadays rely on fast cuts and jump scenes to scare their viewers, Bousman appears to be the anti-jump scene director; as every scene was telegraphed so far ahead that there may as well have been a disclaimer at the bottom of the screen that read “We’re going to try and scare you now.” That and the fact that the hooded figures that make random appearances throughout the film are about as scary as grandpa with no dentures make this film about as exciting as watching snails fornicate.

What really bugs me about “11-11-11″ is that Bousman doesn’t seem to know if he’s making an h0rror movie or a propaganda film for an end-times cult. Either way, by the end of the film the main character regains his faith; whereas the audience loses theirs as soon as it begins. Not their religious faith, mind you, merely their faith in Darren Lynn Bousman.

NO TRIVIA

NO BLOOD DROPS

MOTHER’S DAY

MOTHER’S DAY-United States-2010

Rebecca De Mornay as Natalie ‘Mother’ Koffin

Jaime King as Beth Sohapi

Briana Evigan as Annette Langston

Patrick Flueger as Izaak ‘Iki’ Koffin

Deborah Ann Woll as Lydia Koffin

Jessie Rusu as Melissa McGuire

Shawn Ashmore as George Barnum

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

Screenplay and Screen story by Scott Milam

1980 Screenplay by Charles Kaufman and Warren Leight

I haven’t seen the original “Mother’s Day” from 1980, so I can’t use it in comparison to this, the 2010 remake. From what I do understand the original was more of a gore fest. Although there is gore in the remake it’s more of a psychological thriller. To be honest I must say that it was better than I anticipated.

Three brothers are involved in an (off-camera) robbery. One of them is shot and is taken back to the family home until the other two can decide what to do with him. The only catch is that it’s no longer their home. ‘Mother’ wasn’t able to get a message to them to tell them the house had been foreclosed on. The place had been purchased 2 months prior; so at the same time that the brothers burst through the door the new owners, Beth and Daniel (Jaime King and Frank Grillo) are throwing a house-warming party with a small group of their friends. I’ll give you a moment to imagine how that goes over with the three brothers. I’ll give you a hint: not too fucking good. Pretty soon ‘Mother’ (Rebecca De Mornay) arrives and the fun begins. By ‘fun’ I mean the psycho head games, beatings, burnings, shootings and all that jazz.

What impressed me the most about “Mother’s Day” is the way that it not only pits ‘Mother’ and her boys against the hostages; but it also puts the hostages against each other for reasons that become more evident as time passes. The expression ‘you are your own worst enemy’ reverberates quite heavily with this group.

The last time I saw Rebecca De Mornay was in “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle“. I honestly didn’t recognize her when I first saw the trailer for “Mother’s Day” and was pleasantly surprised at her performance. Her character is to me what Kathleen Turner’s role as Beverly Sutphin would have been if John Waters had decided to make “Serial Mom” a straight up horror film.

“Mother’s Day isn’t a perfect movie. It drags in the final act and I found myself checking the time quite a bit. All told, though, I would have to say that I recommend it for one of those evenings when you have nothing better to do. ‘Mother’ and her boys will certainly do their best to keep you captivated.

TRIVIA

The first cut of the film was completed on December 11, 2009.

The story is loosely based on a true life home invasion, The Wichita Massacre, also known as The Wichita Horror, where brothers Reginald and Jonathan Carr perpetrated a murder/assault/rape/robbery spree against a home owner and his guests in 2000. It remains one of the worst crimes in Kansas state history.

During the filming of a scene that involved guns, the actors were pulled over and held at gun point by the police after mistaking them for people that actually robbed a bank not too far from where they were filming. After realizing that it was all a big misunderstanding, the police and the film team all had a good laugh about it.

½

SAW: A LOOK BACK: PART 4

Hoffman listening to the tape found in Jigsaw'...

Image via Wikipedia

SAW IV-United States-93 Mins. 2007

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

Story by Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan and Thomas H. Fenton

Screenplay by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan

Starring

Tobin Bell as John Kramer/Jigsaw

Costas Mandylor as Lt. Mark Hoffman

Scott Patterson as Agent Peter Strahm

Betsy Russell as Jill Tuck

Lyriq Bent as Lt. Daniel Rigg

So, now we have Saw IV. Jigsaw is dead, his throat slashed open in the final moments of Saw III. Game over, right? Think again. This guy may be dead, but he wins the resiliency award of the decade. I have to say that Jigsaw is one of the few characters that I can think of offhand who dies in one film but can still get top billing for the films that follow it.

Anyways, I’m getting off the subject. Jigsaw is dead. Amanda Young is dead. Yet somehow, someway somebody is carrying on the legacy of building the sickest and most twisted playground equipment this side of  a hostel in Bratislava.

The one cool thing that I liked about Saw IV was the way it gave us a little more insight into the mind of John Kramer aka He Who Would Become the Screwed Up Mess known as Jigsaw. The flashbacks clearly show that even though Mr. Kramer wasn’t the most handsome fella, he wasn’t off  his rocker yet either. There are events in the mans life that led him to become the serial killer we all know and love. There’s stuff involving his wife, the clinic where she works as a doctor and the people who frequent the place. All of  this plays into the evolution of Jigsaw.

Now for the bad news. Saw IV is not a perfect horror film. First of all, let’s go over the traps. In the previous films we find out that Jigsaw was an engineer before he became a wacko serial killer. He had the brains to know how to build the traps that he sprung on people. Shoot, after that most of the people in the films don’t have the brains not to go through an unsecured door much less design and build an elaborate torture device.

Now on to the acting. It’s not going to win any awards. I mean, Tobin Bell still gives the best performance and all his is done as a flashback. It’s pretty sad whenever the guy in the flashbacks gives a better performance than the ones that are supposed to be in the present time. Costas Mandylor hasn’t been in anything of significance since Picket Fences and that show ended in 1996. All the casting director had to do was call him and say “Hey, Cost, I got a part for you in the next Saw film. Now the other films have made a shit–hello? Hello? Costas?” Next thing they know there’s a knock at their door and it’s guess who? Yep. Good old Costas.

So, on the one hand we have a Saw that has great flashback sequences and a very good performance from Tobin Bell. On the other hand we have a Saw that expects us to suspend our disbelief that anybody could design those wonderful toys and some pretty bad performances from the rest of the cast. I guess it kinda evens out.

SAW: A LOOK BACK: PART 3

Saw III

Image via Wikipedia

SAW III-United States-108 Mins. 2006

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

Story by James Wan and Leigh Whannell

Screenplay by Leigh Whannell

Starring

Tobin Bell as John Kramer/Jigsaw

Shawnee Smith as Amanda

Angus McFadyen as Jeff

Bahar Soomekh as Lynn

Donnie Wahlberg as Eric Matthews

Dina Meyer as Kerry

So it is now 2006 and time yet again for another installment of the Saw franchise. Again the formula is followed. A person or persons is put through a grueling and painful test in order to survive or to allow someone else to survive. This time that test is for two people. One is a doctor, a surgeon. Her task is to keep John Kramer. aka Jigsaw, alive. If she fails then the collar around her neck will detonate, or more to the point, go off. Boom, no more doctor. Subtlety is definitely not one of Jigsaw’s stronger character traits.

The other is a man who has lived in anger for the past three years. He is angry at those he feels are responsible for the hit and run death of his eight year old son. He is given a choice as he encounters each of those whom he feels wronged him. He can forgive them and save them or else he can condemn them. The choice is his.

The first Saw is still the measuring stick by which all the other films in the series are graded. However, this installment comes the closest of any film in the series to the quality of the first film. That lies mainly on the fact that it not only answered a lot of questions about past events, but it also raised more questions about things that may or may not happen.

This is Darren Lynn Bousmans second turn behind the camera for the series and he appears to have become comfortable and more sure of himself. In the second film his direction was a bit heavy-handed as if he were not quite sure of himself. I can assure you that is not the case here.

Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith reprise their roles of Jigsaw and Amanda. In Saw II, it was Bell who stole the show with his riveting performance. In Saw III it is Smith’s turn to shine. Her character is full of rage and hatred and Smith portrays that very well.  Her performance isn’t perfect, but it is memorable.

By and large Saw III was still a step down from the original film. However, it is a definite step above Saw II. It’s not the best film in the series, but it’s certainly not the worst. The worst, as they say, is yet to come.

1/2

SAW: A LOOK BACK: PART 2

Amanda in the Reverse Bear Trap

Image via Wikipedia

The second of  a seven-part series focusing on the Saw films.

SAW II-United States-93 Mins. 2005

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

Written by Leigh Whannell and Darren Lynn Bousman

Starring

Tobin Bell as Jigsaw/John  Kramer’

Shawnee Smith as Amanda Young

Donnie Wahlberg as Eric Matthews

Erik Knudsen as Daniel Matthews

Beverly Mitchell as Laura Hunter

A man is trapped in a room. On his head is a device that is a cross between a Venus fly-trap and an iron maiden. He has sixty seconds to find the key and remove the device before it snaps shut, killing him. Time is running out, tick tock, tick tock.

So the players are in place and the stage is set once more. It is now 2005 and again we hear those ominous and now somewhat frightening words.

“I want to play a game.”

The original Saw involved two men trapped in a room together. In order to escape, they had to make a sacrifice. In Saw II, there are now eight people trapped in a house together. They are exposed to a deadly gas and are slowly dying. They have three hours before the front door of the house opens and they are free. There is a catch. They only have two hours to live before the gas breaks them down and they bleed “from every orifice”. They are given clues and even warnings, but there is still violent death. Death by gunshot. Death by fire. Death by another’s hand. To quote Jigsaw; “Oh yes, there will be blood.”

Jigsaw was a cruel God and his victims (test subjects) helpless sinners in the first Saw. In this installment, he is a cruel and calculating Shakespeare and his victims are his players. His audience is Detective Matthews, whom all he requires from is his time. All the people involved have something in common that will help them escape their fates. But time is running out.

Saw II picked up not where the original Saw left off, but later in the game. Victims from the first film are long dead. New characters are brought to the forefront, and the first of the Jigsaw ‘Acolytes’ is introduced. This is where Saw stopped being a film series and began being a franchise. Whether that is a good thing or not would have to be answered in the films that remained.

The film is not without its merits. Donnie Wahlberg does a good job in his role, even if he is playing your stereotypical disheveled and divorced cop. Shawnee Smith reprises her role as Amanda and is effective in her role. But it is Tobin Bell who is the scene stealer in this film. Even when he is sitting still his presence is a commanding one. When he speaks, we are compelled to listen, even if Detective Matthews is not. Without his excellent performance this film would have been nowhere near as successful.

Saw II is a good film. It’s not as good a film as the first, but it does show us that the creators still had a few tricks up their sleeves.

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