Review by Sean Boelman
Genre fans often look to IFC Midnight to put out some of the most daring horror flicks of the year, but every once in a while, they put out something that seems like they acquired it more due to its marketability and to meet a release quota. Barbarians isn’t a bad film — just an overwhelmingly dull one that doesn’t do anything with its potentially intriguing themes.
The movie takes place over a heated night in which two couples come together for a dinner party only for things to begin to escalate out of control. Dirty laundry is aired, secrets are revealed, and tensions arise between supposed friends, but everything feels so overwhelmingly telegraphed that you won’t care about any of it.
If one good thing can be said about the film, it is that it is mercifully short. At a mere ninety minutes, it’s not a lot to sit through even if what you have to sit through isn’t all that interesting. This has been billed as a dark comedy, but there’s really not anything that funny about it; calling it a comedy just seems to be an excuse for all the people in the movie to be absolutely detestable.
It’s clearly very intentional that all four of the main characters are unlikable to some extent, but they exaggerate it to such an extent that it is simply unapproachable. And perhaps even worse, the dynamic between the four characters isn’t compelling or believable, and this is meant to be the crux of the film.
The cast of the movie is likely going to be its main draw. Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones), Tom Cullen (Downton Abbey), and Connor Swindells (Sex Education) all have roles, and may draw the fanbases of their respective shows to this film, but the roles that they are given don’t take advantage of their talents.
This had the potential to be a satire of social class, and yet it’s virtually toothless in its themes. The script is more interested in revealing the secrets that the characters have that will push the plot along than it is in the reasons that this plot is even happening in the first place. And for a movie that’s basically two-thirds just people talking, they need to have something to talk about.
The blocking and camerawork of the film is fine enough, but there’s nothing that really makes this stand out from other close-quarters chamber pieces. Movies like this really need to emphasize the claustrophobia of the situation, but the film doesn’t believably create any tension whatsoever.
Barbarians is a forgettable thriller that is disappointingly lacking in substance. It’s a movie that is undeniably competent in its execution yet is so insignificant that you will forget it by the time the credits roll.
Barbarians hits theaters and VOD on April 1.