[Fantastic Fest 2023] THERE'S SOMETHING IN THE BARN -- Amusing Christmas Horror-Comedy Isn't Very Scary Nor Funny
Review by Sean Boelman
From Dial Code Santa Claus (and its various alternate titles) to Anna and the Apocalypse, the festive horror-comedy is an increasingly large — and often charming — subgenre. Those hoping for a folkloric entry into the genre a la Krampus are likely to be disappointed by There's Something in the Barn, as the latter lacks the wit and scares of the former, but it is just amusing enough to be worth a watch.
The film follows a family who moves to Norway with the goal of turning their newly inherited home into an AirBnB, as they discover that their barn is occupied by an elf of local Scandinavian legend. Despite an intriguing premise, There's Something in the Barn fails to go deep enough into its cultural roots or comedic potential, instead settling on a lowest common denominator approach.
For a horror-comedy, there’s very little in the movie that’s particularly funny. The extent of the film’s humor is mostly “here are Norwegian elves doing evil and violent things!” It’s consistently amusing, but it never goes beyond the core premise in a way that feels original. There’s an overwhelming sense of “been here, done that” to most of the action.
However, even more damning is that the movie never has any convincing stakes. Although there are lots of antics as the elves sometimes cause brutal mischief, it never feels like the core family is in any danger — only the more disposable supporting characters. In many ways, There's Something in the Barn feels safe like a PG-13 horror, despite having enough gore and profanity to likely earn it a light R rating.
It’s also surprising that none of the human characters have a particularly pronounced arc here. The family follows pretty much the archetypes one would expect from the holiday movie subgenre: a child believes in the magic of the holidays, and the rest of the family does not. Ultimately, the most compelling character is the elf the main child befriends, as he has the most emotional growth of anyone in the movie.
In terms of cast, the biggest star here is Martin Starr (Silicon Valley, the Tom Holland Spider-Man trilogy) who does his usual comedic schtick of being somewhat clueless as chaos happens around him. Genre cinephiles might also recognize Kjetil Omberg (Dead Snow), but he essentially plays the exposition dump supporting character.
However, for all the issues There’s Something in the Barn has, its festive energy is admittedly somewhat infectious. Apart from some iffy CGI/green screen work that is obviously the result of a limited budget, Magnus Martens’s filmmaking is entirely competent, making the movie diverting for its ninety-odd minute runtime, even if it doesn’t make much of an impression.
There’s Something in the Barn is hardly memorable enough to earn a spot in the holiday canon because it’s neither funny nor scary. However, the intriguing premise does a lot of heavy lifting for the movie’s shortcomings, as it manages to eke out just enough charm to be worth your time.
There’s Something in the Barn screened at the 2023 Fantastic Fest, which runs September 21-28 in Austin, Texas.