Review: The Barn (2016)

Funny thing; it’s just over a month since we relaunched as Warped Perspective, our mission statement being to diversify from the horror-specific focus of our previous incarnation Brutal As Hell – and yet in that time, I personally have still wound up reviewing nothing but horror movies. Old habits really do die hard. Of course, we never said we’d stop covering horror, nor would that be especially feasible given our standing within the industry, small fish in a big pond though we may be. And given that we’ve always been something of an underdog site, it’s important to me that we support other underdogs, gearing up for their own David/Goliath stories. One such plucky so-and-so ready to let fly with his sling is Justin M Seaman, writer-director of microbudget Halloween horror The Barn – and like all the best microbudget horror filmmakers, what Seaman and co lack in funding, they more than make up for in ideas, ambition, and enthusiasm.

While not exactly a newbie, having shot his first film all way back in 2006, Seaman (I won’t make any puns about his name, I swear, although it’s very hard not to) has only really broken big in the horror scene this past year, both with this feature and a chapter in anthology movie Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories. It’s encouraging to see that he’s already at work on his next feature, Cryptids, as on the evidence of what I’ve seen this is someone with considerable promise in the cheap and nasty arena. As with just about any film you could name made at this level, The Barn is by no means without its fair share of small problems, but it’s one of those agreeable instances when the film’s heart is so clearly in the right place that the little flaws prove easy to overlook.

It’s Halloween time in 1989. For high school senior Sam (Mitchell Musolino), the holiday is very close to his heart, and there’s a particular potency to proceedings this time around as it may be the last time he and his best bud Josh (Will Stout) get to spend it together. On top of which, it may be Sam’s last chance to make something happen with his longtime crush Michelle (Lexi Dripps – okay, combine that surname with a director named Seaman and I am truly struggling not to make a pun here). An ideal opportunity presents itself when their favourite metal band announces an impromptu Halloween night gig a couple of towns over. And so, with their friends Chris (Cortland Woodard), Nikki (Nikki Darling) and Russell (Nickolaus Woodard) in tow, the teens pile into a van and set out on a roadtrip, stopping along the way for a few beers by a campfire alongside a barn. This barn seemed a particularly suitable spot for a bit of partying, as it appears reminiscent of a barn which, according to a local urban legend, was the site of a gruesome murder committed by a trio of demonic trick-or-treaters back in the 1950s. But wouldn’t you know it, that murder really did happen, and this is indeed that barn. You can make an educated guess where things go from there.

As the time period setting suggests, this is very much a neo-retro VHS era homage overflowing with 80s-isms, right down to a nerdy black guy with a thin moustache and square glasses who – sort of a spoiler but not really – is the first to die. Aesthetically, The Barn does a great job capturing an 80s vibe, especially the great score from Rocky Gray (former Evanescence drummer, soon to make his own directorial debut on another Halloween-set horror 10/31/16), which sounds like a cross between Dokken’s Dream Warriors and John Carpenter. Then of course there are the practical make up creations for the trio of antagonists, all of which look great, particularly considering the low budget. Even so, it’s not hard to see the essentials of the story working just fine in a contemporary setting, and there are some moments which stretch the 80s verisimilitude a bit, particularly the live set from a psychobilly band (I’m no expert but I’m fairly sure that kind of music didn’t catch on in America for another decade or so); but that’s sure to be a big part of the fun for many viewers, and one suspects it was for the filmmakers too.

Given how underwritten a lot of horror movies (both on the micro and not-so-micro budget scale) wind up horribly underwritten, it doesn’t feel like too great a crime that The Barn winds up perhaps a little overwritten. It’s to Seaman’s credit that, as a screenwriter, he goes to lengths to give his ensemble plenty to do with more than a little backstory thrown into the mix, but honestly it gets a bit much and could have done with having a bit of the fat trimmed. The metal concert road trip element doesn’t really go anywhere, plus there’s a whole subplot about Sam and Josh being forced to do a food drive in support of the local church; neither of these threads adds a great deal to the film, beyond that they allow for cameos from Linnea Quigley and Ari Lehman. In many eyes, these cameos will of course be reason enough, and obviously they’re in-keeping with the “to-the-max” 80s ethic. (Also, do kids really trick or treat the night before Halloween in the US?)

But The Barn isn’t entirely rooted in the 80s. Given that it deals heavily with the ‘rules’ of Halloween and utilising these for protection, The Barn clearly invites comparison with Trick ‘R Treat; and given Mike Dougherty’s film has become a Halloween staple less than eight years after it (belatedly) went on wide release, The Barn might be accused of punching above its weight a little. But hey, there were plenty of Halloween horror movies before Trick ‘R Treat, and inevitably there will be many more, and The Barn is an entirely respectable addition to that body of film.

The Barn can be purchased on DVD and VHS (alongside a wealth of assorted memorabilia) at the film’s official online store.