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Cinema/TV, Film Notes

FrightFest review – Barbarians (2021)

Barbarians (2021)

Written and directed by Charles Dorfman, from a story by Dorfman and Statten Roeg, Barbarians is a social media-era take on that clueless-townies-move-to-the-country-and-are-terrorised-by-animal-masks-and-standing-stones sub-genre common in the 1970s and now subsumed into the folk horror tradition.  It also spends two-thirds of its time setting up and getting into a wonderfully excruciating dinner party after the manner of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf as two couples tear at each other between courses and revelations come out with every glass of spiked wine … and then has the plot of White Settlers invade the well-appointed converted farmhouse for a bloody finale that doesn’t go quite the way any of the participants might expect.

Lucas Hunt (Tom Cullen), a bumptious uber-guy who perfectly lives up to his character name, has done a dodgy deal with a local family to develop the area around a neolithic monument as a posh estate – giving his wimpy would-be movie-maker pal Adam (Iwon Rheon) first shot at buying the show home because Adam’s world-renowned sculptor partner Eva (Catalina Sandino Moreno) will make a modern-day interpretation of the standing stone that’ll massively add value to the property.  But on the evening of Adam’s birthday meal get-together, with Lucas’ partner Chloe (Ines Spirodinov) as fourth wheel, it comes out that Lucas – whose entire mode of discourse is microaggressions shading into macroaggressions – has something in mind which proves he’s an even bigger dick than Adam thinks he is … and no sooner has that erupted into drug-fuelled violence than the locals come calling, evoking The Strangers and Straw Dogs.

A trio of men in boiler suits – Connor Swindells, Tommy McDonnell, Will Kemp – invade the house, and remarkably manage to convey varying characters with complicated interrelationships while saying very little and sporting animal skull masks.  Some of the twists could almost come from a soap opera – Adam’s response to wrestling domme Lucas’ ‘who’s the daddy?’ is a perfect end-of-episode bombshell – but others feel more like authentic messiness as things get progressively more out of hand.  The art direction and frequent crow’s-eye-views of the landscape, plus some party sounds from the Kubrick back catalogue, give it a poised, ironic feel that cuts against the steady rise of tension and Cullen and Rheon provide squirm-inducingly convincing, deeply horrible characterisations as different stripes of ghastly guy … a tactic that proves a mixed blessing when tables turn and they’re in danger.

Here’s the FrightFest listing.

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