Film director Adam (Iwan Rheon, TV's 'Game of Thrones,' 'Vicious') awakens in an idyllic home in an elite, gated community outside of London. It is his birthday and his partner, Eva (Catalina Sandino Moreno, "Maria Full of Grace," TV's 'From') remarks ‘Just think – after tonight this will be ours.’ But that evening’s celebration dinner is with their friend, the property’s developer Lucas Hunt (Tom Cullen, "Weekend"), and before the night is over they will have all been reduced to “Barbarians.”
Laura's Review: C
Cowriter (with Statten Roeg)/director Charles Dorfman (producer, "The Lost Daughter") makes his feature debut with a film comprised of bits and pieces of many others (last year’s “The Feast,” “Strangers,” “A Clockwork Orange” and every dinner-party-gone-wrong movie) and not a single character to care about. The best aspect of the film is its spatial map, beautifully laid out with an overhead drone shot reminiscent of Peter Greenaway’s meticulously detailed work. One of its worst is the use of a clearly animatronic fox, a way to remind us of better films which also featured this beautiful creature.
After opening with Lucas’s promotional video pitch for his development at the Gaeta stone on the Wickes Family Farm, a title card with bold white letters on a black background drops with a reverberating boom announcing ‘Adam & Eva’ along with its own unoriginal self importance. Adam appears to be riddled with insecurity while we quickly learn Eva is the sculptress referred to in Lucas’s video. We’ll see her walk from her courtyard workspace with Dan (Connor Swindells, TV's 'Sex Education'), the sound cut on their conversation as we switch to Adam’s point of view. When the fox he saw injured on a jog appears in their kitchen out of nowhere, Eva turns to Adam, but it is Dan who takes charge, snapping the animal’s neck.
This emasculation increases tenfold with the arrival of Lucas and his girlfriend Chloe (Inès Spiridonov) (cue the booming title card). Lucas’s supposedly ‘friendly’ putdowns wear out their welcome quickly, but he’ll have an announcement over dinner that will make matters much worse. It turns out that Chloe is a huge fan of Eva’s work, a bit of plotting used to reveal the demonic drawings that have been Eva’s ‘inspiration’ in this place. In turn, Eva quickly guesses something about Chloe that will have ugly implications. Then the doorbell rings, it’s masked home invasion time and we’re wondering what took them so long as this has been telegraphed from the beginning of the film.
While the four main actors all flesh out their characters distinctly, not one of them is particularly likable in any way. Dorfman’s economic driven class themes are readily apparent, but his oppressed characters are completely undefined, inviting no sympathy. Distant tribal drums are a constant reminder that we are watching a folk horror, but the symbol at its center, the Gaeta stone, remains indistinct. “Barbarians” is a feature debut with a fine production but no real suspense or rooting interest.
Robin's Review: C
Adam and Eva are about to celebrate his birthday and finalize the deal on their fabulous new home. A dinner party is planned and their friend and developer, Lucas, and his girlfriend Chloe arrive to celebrate. Over the course of the evening, secrets are revealed and unwelcome visitors darken their doorstep in “Barbarians.”
First-time writer-director Charles Dorfman, with co-scribe Statten Roeg, tries to use a bit of sleight of hand in the story of a birthday dinner gone bad. What starts out as a platonic get together of friends celebrating a birthday and a new home turns ugly as motives are revealed and an invasion happens. This attempt at turning a gathering into a horror story falls flat pretty fast as the motive is telegraphed early on. I will not tell what those motives are, though I figured it out very.
The actors may be very good at their profession but here all the characters are not very likable. The attendees of the dinner party are, at the outset, friends reveling together. As the story plays out, none are what I would call likable. Then, the invaders arrive, animal-masked, wielding a gun and seem to communicate in grunts. But, I knew exactly why they were there, made obvious early on. Too bad the dinner part attendees did not figure it out.
A good, ritzy location, stylish production and camera and competent techs do not make a good movie. There is something called heart and soul and “Barbarians” lacks both.
IFC Midnight releases "Barbarians" in theaters and on demand on 4/1/22.