Barn, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 03/29/06 10:16:20

"Not a bad calling card"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2006 BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL: "The Barn" is an answer to the question "what's the most movie you can make with almost no resources?" For most of its eighty minutes, it gets by with two actors (who also wrote the script), one set, and one sheep. It is, therefore, a pretty fair accomplishment when the movie maintains the audience's interest, keeping the focus on escaping from the barn, as opposed to the theater.

We are trapped in the barn with two unnamed Americans, one skinny and excitable with curly brown hair (Jake Broder), the other bald and wearing glasses (Adam Long). They came to deliver a briefcase to two English gangsters (Gerard Kelly and Mel Radio). Displeased with the contents, the thugs get the drop on the couriers, locking them in the barn where the exchange took place and drive off, saying something vague about coming back to shoot them later. When the skinny one regains his senses, he becomes aware that the barn is solid brick, the door is locked, the windows are barred, and once you get past the dirt and hay, the floor is solid cement. How a sheep later appears while they sleep is a perplexity.

There are some expected steps the characters go through. The initial attempts to escape, the fantasy sequences of what they'll do when the thugs show back up, the hallucinations, and the things that are odd enough and apparently involve both guys to fall in the border area between shared hallucinations and the-world-is-just-screwed-up surrealism. Broder, Long, and director Ruaridh Webster have a little fun with that, messing with the audience's minds on what is (or can be) real and what isn't, or making the fantasies comically macho, as one look at the Americans and the hard gangsters makes the inevitable outcome obvious. The two are, of course, going to fight at some point, and their past will be discussed. The trick is not making anything seem rote or inevitable, and they do a pretty good job mixing stages up.

It's probably not much of a surprise that a film like this, featuring two main actors in a bounded space, consisting mostly of them talking and reaction shots, is in fact written by its stars. This sort of thing is, I imagine, nice to throw on a DVD and attach to one's résumé, and no-one else is going to make a movie showing what you can do. Broder gets most of the spotlight; Long's character is pretty non-responsive initially while Broder attacks the walls, talks about and gives evidence of being ready to lose it, and yells at his companion. It takes two to make a good argument, though, and Long pulls his own weight. He may seem unimpressive at the start, in part because his better moments come toward the end of the film, when Broder's character has burned himself out and Long's gets to be the calm one with the wisdom to accept what he can't do anything about.

Normally, I might compliment the filmmakers on not just making this a play on film, but I think they may have wound up going just a bit too far in the opposite direction. We're supposed to feel claustrophobic, but the barn is almost too large to create that feeling. There's also a sequence toward the middle in the open air that works a bit against that, but I'll let it slide because it does feel legitimately off-kilter; we've gotten so used to the barn's environs that the way this sequence is sprung on us is jarring and we're not used to the blue sky. Mr. Webster and the actors also do a good job of working with the sheep, an animal often described as untrainable. It's mostly good shot composition, but it highlights the absurdity of the thing's presence.

I can't say that I'd pay to see "The Barn" outside of a festival setting, but as a calling card, it's not too shabby.

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