As much as I love it when a movie tosses a few unexpected twists and turns my way, it's tough to ignore the sheer number of films that throw out their backs while bending over backwards to deliver that one big oh-my-god-you'll-never-see-it-coming mega twist. Add Barricade to the list of casualties claimed by this growing trend. What could have been a spooky little haunted home invasion flick slowly comes undone in the second half as disjointed scares pave the way to a monumentally silly ending.
At least director Andrew Currie working from a screenplay by Michaelbrent Collings builds up a reasonably effective atmosphere before it all goes to hell. Much of the credit for our investment in the film's setup goes to the core casting. Eric McCormack plays against type here as a dad struggling to cope with the death of his wife while putting on a brave face for his kids (Conner Dwelly and Ryan Grantham). We see just enough of his past home life with his wife played by Jody Thompson to understand that although he loved his children, he was never the most attentive father. Holding up the other end of this complex relationship are Dwelly and Grantham who carefully avoid turning into cute kid stereotypes. They are acutely aware of what they have lost but remember to cut their dad some slack as he discovers the weight of brand new emotional responsibilities.
As part of the recovery process, our central trio heads off to a cabin in the snowy mountains where Thompson's character spent time as a child. A car accident along the icy roads gets their vacation off to a rocky start but they eventually end up at the cabin which is creepy in a deserted hunting lodge sort of way. Taxidermied animals, creaky doors, damp dark cellars...this place has it all. Cold, hungry and tired; the family agrees to try and make the best of their time in this uninviting location. Unfortunately for them, they may not be alone. At first, it's just a quick shot of a face peeking in the window and some fleeting shadows in the woods. Soon, the intruders are in the house, ransacking rooms and pounding on doors. Our family may not know what's going on but they certainly feel threatened. If this sounds like a simple home invasion, I assure you things will get a whole lot stranger before the truth comes to light.
I have to admit that I went into this film with fairly low expectations. After all, how much hope could one pin on a horror film from WWE Studios that doesn't feature a single wrestler but gives us Eric McCormack like we've never seen him before? As it turns out my reservations were misplaced. Although the film clearly has some problems, none of them are related to the film's lineage or its performances. As a matter of fact, I rather enjoyed the setup. The somber tone of the opening scenes established a mood that was ably supported by our 3 leads (McCormack, Dwelly and Grantham). I bought the idea of them as a fractured family trying to find some peace in the face of unimaginable loss. Even the first eerie occurrences pack a healthy dose of suspense. It's nothing you haven't seen before but the film is still effective at this stage.
The turning point comes when the family decides they have to barricade themselves in the house. Soon after he develops a pesky cough, McCormack's character is roaming the halls like a sweaty maniac having random hallucinations in quick succession. These little fever dreams are handy for Currie since he gets to stage creepy little sequences without worrying about the complete lack of connective tissue between them. Why is the little girl stabbing a bowl of macaroni in the kitchen? Why is the boy floating in a bathtub full of water? Apparently, it doesn't matter as long as you are distracted from the fact that the film has become stagnant. The overt reliance on these dream sequences demonstrates that when there is nothing tangible to hang on to, scares become a lot less effective.
At least Currie tries to save the final act by slathering on visual style in the form of defocused shots and canted angles. What he can't save is the ending which is DOA. I won't spoil it here but I assure you it is laughable. It is based on a shift in perspective that casts everything we've seen in a different light. When appropriately planned out and delivered, this sort of ending can be memorable. Here, it comes across as a cheap trick played upon the characters and the viewers. It's not even substantial enough to register as having landed with a dull thud. It just hangs in the air, begging the question: "Is that all?"
The anamorphic widescreen image is presented with sufficient clarity. Black levels are decent but a few of the darker shots are lacking in shadow detail. With that said, there aren't any obtrusive visual defects at play here. A few directorial choices lead to soft defocused shots but they are fleeting. Altogether, this is a perfectly acceptable presentation for the material at hand.
The audio is presented in English and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mixes with optional English, Spanish and French subtitles. The mix provides capable support to the forceful and effective soundtrack. All the creaky, eerie sound effects typical of a haunted house come through with clarity. Dialogue is also free of defects.
A series of short featurettes take us behind the scenes of the film. Blueprint to Fear: The Cabin (4:54) gives us a tour inside the film's central location. Elements of stage design are discussed by the cast and crew. Special attention is paid to distinctive elements of every single room in the cabin and how they impact the feel of the story. Next up, Whiteout (6:38) explores how the blizzards and snow effects were created for the film. This is a fairly interesting segment for anyone who ever wondered what the white stuff on screen was made of (who knew, there were 5 kinds of movie snow?).
Breaking Type: Eric McCormack (4:03) gives us some time with the actor as he covers what prompted his transition from humor to horror. Surprisingly, he was most interested in the fear engendered by parental inadequacies. The final featurette, Manning Park (5:25), takes us back outside so we can see how the film crew transformed this ski resort, a few hours from Vancouver, into a location worthy of filming the frantic exterior shots. We close things out with a Photo Gallery.
After an engaging setup, Barricade slowly loses its way as the second half is handed over to a series of disconnected scares that culminate in a head-scratcher of a finale. This is unfortunate because Eric McCormack does a good job of breaking away from his comedic persona with support from the young but talented Conner Dwelly and Ryan Grantham. Their performances aren't entirely wasted since the film does work in short bursts. It just isn't the memorable sort that you'll recommend to friends later on. With that said, I think there are just enough positive elements scattered throughout the film that one wouldn't be ashamed to Rent It.