Ah yes. The uncomfortable dinner party. It is a popular trope we have seen used as a vehicle for furthering plot and ramping up tension in many horror films such as The Invitation (2015)You’re Next (2011), and now, Barbarians (2022). We typically see a gathering of old friends or estranged family members for a sit-down dinner where sordid secrets and dark memories are brought to light, usually resulting in chaos and tragedy. It has proven itself a successful tool in making audiences feel uneasy while building on intense feelings of dread so it is no wonder that first-time director Charles Dorfman decided to put his own twist on the thrilling subgenre in his debut feature film.

Barbarians stars Game of Thrones veteran Iwan Rheon, Academy Award nominated actress Catalina Sandino Moreno (Mary Full of Grace), Tom Cullen (Knightfall), and Ines Spiridonov. The thriller from, IFC Midnight, follows married couple Adam (Rheon) and Eva (Sandino Moreno) as they prepare a lavish dinner party in celebration of not only Adam’s birthday but also their decision to officially purchase the breathtaking countryside estate they have been staying at. Scheduled to attend are Lucas (Cullen), Adam’s longtime frenemy and landlord who is selling him the property, and Lucas’ girlfriend Chloe (Spiridonov). While all four characters appear to have it all, the film quickly establishes that outward appearances are almost always never what they seem.

 

“checks off most of the boxes of a good home invasion/uncomfortable dinner party story”

 

Adam is a somewhat successful filmmaker struggling to come up with his magnum opus and Eva is a famous artist looking to make this new house her permanent home so she can finally start the family she wants. Despite their seemingly happy relationship tensions are already brewing under the surface as Adam constantly finds himself dealing with feelings of immense inadequacy which is only made worse by the arrival of stereotypical “Alpha Male” Lucas. As a popular social media influencer and real estate guru Lucas is everything that Adam is not: Funny, charming, suave, and strong. He also, unfortunately, is a bit of a jerk who has learned over the years how to persuade people into giving him the things he wants. Consequences are a foreign concept to Lucas. Joining him is his young and beautiful girlfriend Chloe who has grown accustomed to the posh way of life he has introduced her to. She also happens to be a huge fan of Eva’s art.


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The night is filled with uncomfortable silences, passive-aggressive comments, rude observations, and a lot of wine. By the time these four very different friends sit down to start their meal the audience is already on the edge of their seats waiting for the boiling point to come. Unsurprisingly Lucas and Adam are competing for attention while their significant others try to keep them at bay. Before you know it, secrets are spilled, arguments break out, and lies come to the surface. Right as things are about to come to a head the doorbell rings and the group is introduced to three masked intruders hellbent on turning the evening into an even bigger disaster than it already was. In the face of imminent danger, Adam and his friends must come together in spite of all their flawed history and fight back to make it to morning alive.

 

 

Overall, Barbarians does not offer up anything particularly new or exciting to the subgenre. It follows a pretty basic plot that we have seen before in other films and although it does it well, it has also been done just as well if not better in those other films. However, what it lacks in creativity, it makes up for in the performances. The actors portray their roles so wonderfully and after just a few minutes on screen, you know exactly who each of them are and what they contribute to the story.


Hot at the Shop:

Hot at the Shop:


The shining star of the whole production is Tom Cullen as Lucas. We have all met someone like him before. He is very smarmy yet charming and you want to hate him, but something stops you from going all the way there. He knows that he makes Adam feel badly about himself and he leans into that hard in order to use him to get the things he needs. Similarly, Iwan Rheon perfectly plays the role of Adam as a weak and annoying man who is never satisfied with his life as long as others are doing better than him. You want to like him, but something stops you and makes you question if he is really any better than Lucas. The film really explores what it means to be a man by examining different forms of masculinity.

 

 

There is also humor sprinkled throughout the film, even in its darkest moments, that gives an air of authenticity to the overall takeaway. The characters feel like real people which makes what they go through even harder to absorb. They may not be the nicest people, especially to each other, but they do not deserve what inevitably occurs. The film has you rooting for people that just moments before were driving you crazy. The masked assailants who terrorize the group are fantastic as well and director Charles Dorfman deserves credit for his decision to have them wear animal skulls to conceal their identities rather than a simple ski mask or something else along those lines.

The first two acts of the film are completely devoted to establishing the relationship dynamics between the four main characters. Tension builds the more you get to know them and leaves you craving the punch to the gut you expect the third act to deliver on. Once that third act comes, however, you are left desiring even more. The ending falls a little flat, unfortunately, and it seems like this would have been better suited to be a dramatic character study rather than a full-blown horror film. Plain and simple this film checks off most of the boxes of a good home invasion/uncomfortable dinner party story, but lacks a uniqueness that would have pushed it over the edge to greatness. Fans of thrillers and tension building sequences should definitely check this film out to watch the talented cast pull off a very deliberately uncomfortable performance. While it does leave a little to be desired in terms of the horror elements it is still an entertaining film with many positive things to offer.

 

“…lacks a uniqueness that would have pushed it over the edge to greatness.”

 

Charles Dorfman’s home-invasion thriller Barbarians, an IFC Midnight picture, hits select theatres and VOD Friday, April 1. Let us know if you’re excited to check out this tense survival story, and what you would do if a group of intruders interrupted your birthday party over on TwitterRedditFacebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.