Three friends rent a cabin in a state forest and meet two pretty sisters. It seems like life couldn’t be better. Or maybe not…
John Boggi’s The Barren Pine is one of those slow-burning experimental-thrillers that appear ordinary at first and imperceptibly turn frightening. The tale opens with a young man staggering through a stream. It soon becomes clear that he’s hurt, since he’s holding his abdomen.
Camouflaged by the wooded overgrowth, a woman watches the man as he makes it to land, and settles against a tree. The woman stands behind the tree, where the man feels her presence. Without saying a word, the man removes his wedding band, reaches around the tree, and hands it to the woman.
The next scene jumps to a car where Byron, Glenn and Jake have just arrived at the Apple Island State Forest. After listening to the park ranger’s rules for visitors, and promising never to trespass on Apple Island for fear of being shot by illegal hunters, the three men eagerly settle into their cabin at 225 Woodhaven Drive. When Jake hears a persistent knock on the door he opens it to find a young woman. The visitor introduces herself as Angela, and asks Jake if she and her sister could stay overnight at the cabin. Naturally, Jake says yes, since Angela is very persuasive. Angela’s sister Henrietta appears shortly thereafter. Henrietta seems quieter than her sister, though she’s equally attractive. Angela joins Byron and Glenn at their card game, while Jake lazily writes in his journal and Henrietta draws on her sketchpad.
If all this seems too pristine, you’re right— but what happens next defies the imagination.
With the return of vampires, witches and supernatural entities to the contemporary screen, it’s pretty clear that savvy viewers over tween-age are not easily frightened. And while the sexiness of modern occult characters helps to draw more sophisticated spectators, that only goes so far too. What makes The Barren Pine unique is that Boggi’s actors are more real than the average Hollywood-fare. As a result, the characters are able to provoke in much the same way as Rod Serling’s characters could, because they’re interesting in a philosophical and timeless way. In other words, what the characters say, or better yet leave unsaid, make us think long and hard about the unknown.
I particularly appreciate Boggi’s non-linear, poetic structure, which is not blatantly obvious. About the only thing that weakens The Barren Pine for me are two scenes, where the acting of the sisters seems too theatrical and overdone for the screen. In spite of this problem, I greatly appreciate the quirky, old fashioned feel of the film, and the outstanding original score of Ken Sandberg, who also plays Jake in the movie.
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