Charles Dorfman’s Barbarians is more than its neanderthal title suggests. It’s actually quite an attempt to blend with sophistication the mannered comedy and home invasion thriller, think Funny Games with a giant stone phallic symbol parked outside. This kind of dark comedy thriller about the filthy rich and those they step on seeking revenge has been done many times before, including recently in Charlie MacDowell’s Windfall. Barbarians doesn’t measure up to those, but when vengeful reality intrudes on the surreal oasis created by a wealthy foursome, the film can be quite compelling.
Adam (Game of Thrones‘ Iwan Rheon) and Eva (Catalina Sandino Moreno), have found the home they want to spend the rest of their lives in. The ridiculous luxury property is built on sacred British farmland that may or may not have changed hands under shady circumstances. There are grievances over that. Adam, a wuss and pathological liar, not to mention an unemployed filmmaker, is less gung-ho on the home than Eva, a sculptor who designs massive archaic Druid structures. They’re to be placed outside of each building, a major selling point.
The film actually begins with a grating infomercial by online snake oil salesman Lucas (Tom Cullen), pushing the properties to his social media audience in hopes it will go viral. Lucas is a bully, an arrogant blowhard who is like oil to Adam’s water. When he wishes Adam a “happy birthday” it comes with the practiced smile of a salesman. His girlfriend, the contented and gorgeous Chloe (Inès Spiridonov), is okay as long as she continues being taken care of.
Adam and Eva are to receive the first of these gaudy mini-mansions, far away from the hustle and bustle of city life. But first; a dinner party. A tense one, with a designer drug introduced that you know is going to haunt them later.
Writer/director Charles Dorfman is interested in the artificies that people create and use like a shield against others’ prying eyes. Lucas’ bravado looks practiced because it is; we see him testing out his hyperbole over cellphone video. Adam gives the impression of being calm and cool as a cucumber but he’s deeply insecure, jealous, and a liar who needs the approval of others. All of these quirks spill out over a fine steak dinner, in which everyone is a deceiver in some way, but I couldn’t help wishing Dorfman went deeper than surface level, especially with the women who are woefully underwritten.
When there’s a knock at the door and the real barbarians step foot inside, The Barbarians takes on the shape of similar thrillers, namely The Strangers. Arriving nearly an hour into the film, all of the arguments and lies and disastrous revelations feed into the grisly ordeal, making us wonder where everyone’s loyalties truly lie and adding to the visceral feeling of chaos. While certainly gripping as the violence escalates, The Barbarians doesn’t push the envelope or add anything new to the conversation that can elevate it in a well-worn genre.
Barbarians opens in theaters and digital on April 1st.