★★★★ out of ★★★★★
It’s a dark night of several souls as a dinner party with four supposed friends goes sour and then turns deadly in this take-no-prisoners examination of ego clashes and deceit.
Directed by Charles Dorfman
Egos clash and relationships crumble during a highly uncomfortable birthday dinner party in writer/director Charles Dorfman’s incredibly tense debut as a writer/director, Barbarians (U.K., 2021) — and then the film goes into full-blown horror mode.
This acerbic skewering of male egos and influencer culture finds meek screenwriter Adam (Iwon Rheon) and his partner Eva (Catalina Sandino Moreno) preparing to celebrate Adam’s birthday at the model home they are preparing to buy from Adam’s alpha male friend — frenemy might be more fitting — Lucas (Tom Cullen), who is bringing his girlfriend Chloe (Ines Spirodinov) along for the get-together. Viewers are tipped off early on that the friendship between the two men is an uneasy one, and both couples are not without their problems, either. Needless to say, the dinner party is a highly uncomfortable event for all involved, and Adam’s earlier unwillingness to act when an injured fox — which he encountered in the wild earlier that day — shows up bleeding on the couple’s kitchen floor is a foreshadowing of several elements.
Let’s leave the plot at that so as to avoid spoilers, but suffice it to say that Dorfman — producer of such films as Satanic Panic, VFW, and Boys from County Hell — serves up plenty of surprises throughout this fine film. His direction is keen, and his flair for horror is as impressive and well done as his sense of drama, with plenty of nasty little flourishes and subtle reveals. The four leads are all terrific, making Barbarians worth a watch for their acting alone. Each of the four main characters is flawed in at least one way — I mean their personalities or actions, not in the way they are written, to be clear — and it is riveting to see how their arcs play out.
If I haven’t yet convinced you to put Barbarians high on your need-to-see list, let me state — it’s mentioned early on, so not a spoiler — that the home and surrounding area in which the story takes place is in the vicinity of a mysterious standing stone, which places the film in the subgenre of modern-day folk horror.
Barbarians screened as part of Arrow Video FrightFest Halloween Edition, which ran in London, U.K. on October 29 and 30, 2021.