Review: Barbarians (2021)

  • Director: Charles Dorfman
  • Writer: Charles Dorfman
  • Stars: Iwan Rheon, Catalina Sandino Moreno

Review

The home invasion film is usually a paint by numbers affair because, well, people are at home, unwelcome visitors intrude and, usually, only one will be alive by the end of a very long night. Barbarians, written and directed by Charles Dorfman, sticks to this tried and true formula, but also attempts to pull a few tricks out of it’s sleeve while also commenting on various social issues.

Starring Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones) as Adam and Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace) as Eva, they are the first two lucky inhabitants of a sprawling residential nirvana known as Gateway. The film opens with a luxe ad for Gateway, directed by Adam, with Lucas (Tom Cullen) as the charismatic salesman who promises you the country life while still only being a short commute from civilization. Built upon ground that is connected to a deep rooted history, these contemporary houses, which look like Architectural Digest wannabes, also boast a huge art piece in the shared middle garden created by Eva who is an internationally renown artist. This is how Adam and Eva (oy vey) have come to live at Gateway.

Waking up on his birthday, Adam is not as in love with living the country life at Gateway as Eva is. On his morning run, Adam encounters an injured fox that will miraculously show up at this house later: there seems to be a supernatural element to the fox, but it is quickly dropped. Instead, the fox may be the first clunky indicator that Adam is seen as not as masculine as he’s “supposed” to be. This will carry though the film and it’s so exhaustingly banal of a character trait, not to mention the fact that Rheon played Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones and, well, if you know, you know. And if you know, then you aren’t buying his inability to deliver cruelty for one single second.

Not only is Gateway built on historical ground, but the means by which Lucas has come to be the owner of it is twenty shades of messy. Quite frankly, it never becomes clear why the historical aspect is important to the story; perhaps it tied into the fox, but again, it was dropped along with a couple of other things that could have turned out infinitely more interesting than the dinner party that we are about to attend.

Occurring over the course of a night, Adam and Eva are hosting Lucas and his girlfriend Chloe (Inès Spiridonov) for a celebratory dinner. Of course, nothing is going to go as planned and all of the storytelling and character breadcrumbs that have been left will lead to many unsurprising developments. By the time the home invasion begins, the intruders really would have been better off coming on a different night because these four privileged assholes are already at each other’s throats for various reasons, none of which are particularly interesting or novel.

Barbarians is gorgeous and as Dorfman’s first writing and directorial effort, it’s certainly nothing to sneeze at, but it’s all so tediously well worn territory. How manly does a man need to be? What does it say about him if his female partner is more “in charge” than him? Maybe privileged men, masculine or not, need to stop stealing land from others. Are Americans really the only people who have an issue with guns and violence? Do we ever really know the person that we live with? The trailer for Barbarians suggests a fun home invasion romp à la You’re Next, but unfortunately, what we get is a watered down, horror adjacent version of The Ref.

Side note: Had no idea that Encino Man is titled California Man outside of the U.S.

Lisa Fremont

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