(Iwan Rheon, Tom Cullen, Inés Spiridonov, Catalina Sandino Moreno, et. Al | NR | 1 hr. 29 minutes | Media Finance Capital)
Overview: What begins as a dinner party between friends dissolves into chaos as secrets are revealed and revenge is taken for past acts.
Verdict: Billed as a horror-thriller, Barbarians opens on an infomercial for Gateway, a picturesque piece of property, cutting abruptly to a shot of the pitchman looking bloody. Immediately, the viewer is engaged. But what one hopes might be an engaging psychological drama ends up being little more than an aimless meandering through its 90-minute runtime.
The hook is simple enough: Adam (Iwan Rheon) and his fiancée, Eve (Catalina Sandino Moreno), are going to be getting together with friends to celebrate Adam’s birthday. One of their friends happens to be the owner of the Gateway property which Adam and Eve (the Biblical reference never goes anywhere) will be purchasing, so to add to the celebrations, papers will be signed.
Things (are supposed to) get weird when Adam keeps coming across injured and dead foxes on the property the day this shindig is supposed to take place. The first fox encounter involves a mercy killing that comes with injured animal sounds and a bit of blood, so if any of those things are triggering for you, consider this a content warning. This unfortunate business stresses Adam out, and Eve makes him promise to tell her if this life they’re building together isn’t the life that he wants.
Lucas (stand-out Tom Cullen) and his girlfriend, Chloe (Inés Spiridonov), arrive later in the evening, but not before shooting a video at some sort of presumedly druidic landmark and expressing regret that Tom’s late, ex-business partner couldn’t be there to see such a magnificent thing, despite the fact that the two parted on poor terms, with Lucas accused of acquiring the other man’s plot of land through sketchy means.
The best aspect of this film is the lighting, and the entirety of the dinner is when the lighting is at its peak.
Everything else lacks luster, with elements that would add to the “horror-thriller” label leading nowhere — like when artist Eve shows Chloe her work with a decidedly dark tone and says, “being here has drawn my art toward…” and never finishes her sentence. To a similar end, the story is chopped up into different chapters, and each time the white-on-black text hits the screen, it completely removes the viewer from the story.
The dialogue is stilted and unfruitful, when the party spends entirely too long trying to come up with the correct title and lead actor of Brendan Fraser’s Encino Man, or when Chloe is found to be pregnant and implies that Adam could be the father, but nothing comes of it. Moments like this and others set the pacing off, as time seems to jump forward by way of ricocheting conversation topics. Before you know it, half the film is over, and nothing important has happened.
Hope rises, though, when Adam and Lucas begin to argue as Adam has second thoughts about the real estate transaction, with Adam lacing Lucas’ wine with some sort of drug. Hope rises further when masked invaders crash the party. And hope falls completely flat when the intruders silently, haphazardly, vandalize the place, taking all hostage.
All is not lost, however, for it is here that Cullen’s Lucas absolutely destroys, fabulously showcasing the fits of someone who has been acutely poisoned. Throughout this part, especially, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to 2010’s The Perfect Host, always and only wishing this was more like that.
The eventual turnabout and escape by those who survive is almost as predicable as the reasons why the punks show up in the first place, but I won’t spoil it here. If you think about it for more than a minute, you may well guess.
And that’s the biggest problem Barbarians has; film that is supposed to be a psychological rollercoaster is wayward in reaching its end. A film called Barbarians is overall disappointing and guessable.
And that’s a fact too savage in itself.
Review by: Ashley J. Cicotte
BARBARIANS is now available to stream VOD and select theaters. Check local listings for showtimes.