Friendly Rivalries Bring Out the Barbarians (2022) in Remote Mansion Home Invasion Horror
First Non-Festival Release: April 1, 2022 (Limited Theatrical Release)
Director: Charles Dorfman
Writer: Charles Dorfman, Statten Roeg
Runtime: 90 Minutes
Starring: Tom Cullen, Iwan Rheon, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Inès Spiridonov
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
It’s a universal feeling to experience tension or awkward conversation at a dinner with people you don’t really like. There are too many opportunities for things to go south and any attempts at salvaging the mood or saving face when someone inevitably makes a social transgression are dashed when the rest of the party takes that as a cue to retaliate.
This is the nightmare that Adam (Iwan Rheon) is living. It’s his thirtieth birthday and he is spending it with his wife, Eve (Catalina Sandino Moreno), and friends Lucas (Tom Cullen) and his girlfriend Chloe (Inès Spiridonov). Their quiet evening is shattered when past mistakes come alive in the worst way to terrify and degrade them.
Solid thrills and believable performances prop up an otherwise middling home invasion horror in Barbarians.
Much of the conflict in Barbarians broils between alpha male archetype Lucas and the more reserved Adam. Throughout their awkward birthday dinner, the two spar back and forth reacting strongly to jabs at their ego. Neither wants the other to one-up the other or control the situation. Each also has the illusion that they have the upper hand. Their rocky relationship is thrown on its head when revelations come to light about each other’s duplicity.
Barbarians is another attempt at dissecting the fragility of the male ego. The audience knows very little of what is about to play out in this British slow-burn but by the time it ends they’ll have seen it all before and done better. Much of this is done via dissecting the central relationship between Lucas and Adam, but it goes further once the home invasion begins.
It is eventually revealed that the sons of the previous owner of the home sought revenge against Lucas for stealing the land out from under him, eventually leading to the patriarch's suicide. Their intentions were never to harm, only humiliate. Their tunnel vision becomes their downfall as things spiral out of control quickly, with no person ready to de-escalate the situation appropriately, aside from a few instances from Adam.
Even though the film has a solid foundation to its setup, it fails to break free from its generic script. Almost every cliché is used in the book to increase the tension in Barbarians: a surprise pregnancy, infidelity, refusing to take ownership of mistakes, etc. Everything plays out in the most predictable manner aside from a few interesting choices in the initial invasion portion of the film. For something so serious sounding, it would have aided the screenwriters to get more imaginative with the direction the story takes.
Strong performances anchor the film in what would otherwise be a rather silly affair. Iwan Rheon and Tom Cullen duke it out for the majority of the scenes in Barbarians with great results. The two have a respectable chemistry that makes their irritation with the other palpable yet subdued enough to ensure they pass as friends. While both are great in the film, Cullen’s pass at the macho influencer/real estate salesman is especially striking. His vacillation between the bravado and ire for others is exciting in an otherwise drab film. The rest of the supporting cast rounds out the film nicely.
A passable home invasion horror, Barbarians is a neatly folded napkin of a film that thinks it is crashing and upheaving the dinner table. Its core idea of presenting the dangers of masculine rage at the hands of humiliation stumble in its so-so execution. Solid performances and a decent amount of tension cannot make up for a predictable script and plodding pacing. Take comfort in knowing that Barbarians, while not amazing, is a fine little horror thriller film perfect for a blind watch on a rainy day that will deliver exactly what you expect it will.
Overall Score? 6/10