Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Barn (2016)

It’s Halloween in small town USA, 1989. Best friends Sam (Mitchell Musolino) and Josh (Will Stout) are just about to graduate high school. But before they let go of supposedly childish things like Sam’s absolute obsession with the best of all holidays – he’s even got his own interpretation of the Rules of Halloween – they are going to have a real proper Halloween with their other friends by riding out of town for the big concert of their favourite band, Death Inferno. Perhaps Josh can push Sam into finally romancing long time crush Michelle (Lexi Dripps), too?

Alas, the kids will never actually arrive at their concert a couple towns over, for on their way, they accidentally end up in front of the barn all local Halloween legends talk about. Apparently, if you knock on the barn door three times and shout “Trick or Treat!”, you’ll awaken a trio of murderous monsters that’s a bit like the Halloween version of the village people – a miner, a scarecrow, and a guy with a pumpkin head with flaming eyes. Because they are kids in a horror movie, and because Josh clearly thinks it’ll get Sam over some of his personal hang-ups, our group of protagonists does exactly that, and will end up paying rather dearly in the ensuing triple slasher rampage. However, it’ll turn out that Sam’s and Josh’s experience in gardening will be extremely useful in a monster fight.

Justin M. Seaman’s The Barn is a piece of throwback horror from beginning to end, so if the idea of a film quite this consciously using the style of late 80s US low budget horror, even going so far as to use filters to make the thing look more like the films it adores, sends you into some kind of anti-retro panic, this is not the film for you. I’m generally a bit on the fence about retroism taken quite this far, but I quickly found myself charmed and entertained by the film, and once the scene that can only be called “The Halloween Hoedown Massacre” came around, there was no thought about complaining about the film being retro anymore, for it is delightfully so.

What I particularly enjoyed about the whole affair is how much The Barn embraces the silly and goofy sides of the films it so clearly has been inspired by, showing as little shame as its role models when it comes to seek reasons to show off wonderfully gloopy gore effects, and as much moody red and blue lighting as anyone could ever have wished for. This is the sort of film that late in the game decides that three supernatural killers alone just aren’t quite enough, so it adds a Satanic cult to the fold. And because Seaman and cohorts apparently know what’s fun about Satanic cults in the sort of film they are making, it indeed ends up as a nice addition to the rest of the wonderfully weird crap going on here.

All of this would be enough to result in a perfectly good time for me, but The Barn also works rather well in its more down to earth moments, particularly in its first third. While the film certainly works with clichés when it comes to its characters, particularly Sam and Josh’s friendship still rings true to what I know of a certain type of close friendship between boys in a small town, and actually feels quite a bit better developed than comparable relationships would have been in many late 80s horror films. Michelle’s and Sam’s relationship, while also a movie cliché, works on a comparative level, too. These more naturalistic elements do of course wonders when it comes to selling all the crazy and outrageous bits of the film, and really hold together what otherwise could have been a fun series of gory episodes more than an actual movie, while still leaving the filmmakers enough space to just make up crazy entertaining shit.

Of course, there are a couple of weaknesses: the acting is not always as strong as it could be (a problem The Barn obviously shares with it spiritual predecessors), and the second act could probably have been tightened a bit. However, when it comes to fun throw back horror like this, these aren’t exactly insurmountable obstacles to enjoyment, and indeed, if you want to see a very specifically old-fashioned fun horror movie instead of the bleak and slow stuff I so often champion in contemporary horror, The Barn should hit the spot very nicely indeed.

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