by Patrick Bromley
Writer/director Justin Seaman's The Barn is the newest latest (to me) indie horror movie that exists to fetishize the 1980s in every way, from the aesthetics to the effects to even some members of the cast. It's the kind of film that, like 2015's Lost After Dark and last year's Secret Santa, exists less to pay tribute to '80s horror than to slavishly recreate it, all imitation and not inspiration. And yet despite being part of what I see as a depressing trend in indie horror, The Barn is charming and fun and one of the best examples of its type that I've seen. Taken on its own, I enjoyed the movie. Taken as part of a growing fad, I feel like I'm over it.
There's a lot that The Barn has going for it. The movie is heavy with Halloween atmosphere and a real love for the mythology of the holiday, going so far as to create its own legends to correspond with the night; each of the three monsters represents a different aspect of Halloween and feel like real stories we might have heard as kids. That Halloween vibe is probably my favorite thing about the film and is the reason I may return to it in future Octobers, as it's clear just how much affection the filmmakers have for the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Director Seaman tries to approximate the look of an '80s horror movie without going overboard on post-production scratches or gimmicky "missing reel" bullshit (it was funny in Grindhouse and never again). The occasional cigarette burn is visible from time to time, but it's hard to hold that against the movie when Mike Flanagan did the exact same thing in Ouija: Origin of Evil just a few months back. There's some synth score, but it's never overdone; most of the music in the is metal that's not entirely period accurate. The practical gore effects are fun, particularly during one mid-movie slaughter that piles one gag on top of another. Hell, even a cameo by First Jason himself Ari Lehman manages to be super fun, with the gloved one appearing as the host of a late night video show with an opening credits sequence that's hilariously spot-on.
The Mind's Eye or even Beyond the Gates) that have a heavy '80s influence because the new generation of indie horror directors were raised on those movies, but they're also movies that feel like new works created by original voices interested in making something good. Other indie horror films I've seen of late (I won't say which ones, as there's no point in calling them out by name) appear content to rest on recreating the '80s aesthetic and use it as an excuse to make a shitty movie because, well, some of those early '80s horror movies were shitty. So now we're creating nostalgia for something we don't even necessarily like, but have fondness for because...we saw it when we were kids? Or didn't see it when we were kids, but it came out at the same time as other movies we liked as kids? As someone who is not immune to the allure of nostalgia, I'm genuinely trying to understand this phenomenon.
The Barn is taking things several steps further, as the nostalgia doesn't end with the film itself. It has become part of all of the marketing and even merchandising around the movie (made possible by a hugely successful Indiegogo campaign), which offers big box VHS copies of the film, the soundtrack album on vinyl and cassette tape (retro!), a board game, vinyl Halloween masks, old school-style The Barn action figures and an 8-bit video game. The glorification of the '80s has become its own little cottage industry as far as The Barn is concerned, and I bring this up not to damn the film or the filmmakers (this is all separate from the movie itself), but to question where the breaking point will be. Is trading in on things that are old a sustainable business model? There are communities of people who fetishize VHS, not because it's the only way to see certain movies (it still is) but because of how it looks and sounds, this despite the fact that it is an inferior format in every single measurable way. I'm guessing there are also people who prefer 8-bit video games to anything on their PS4s. So we're no longer selling a movie that feels retro, but recapturing the entire experience of what it was to be an '80s kid. This is not the way to create art that is new or exciting. This is not the way we move forward.