By: Kayla Caldwell
BARBARIANS, co-written (with Statten Roeg) and directed by Charles Dorfman, is aptly named. These people are terrible - I mean, this is the last dinner party you would want to be at. (Post-COVID, dinner parties are scary to begin with, so this film is especially terrifying.) It was a wise choice to cast Iwan Rheon, who's known for playing loathsome Game of Thrones baddie Ramsay Bolton.
Rheon plays Adam, a writer who is perhaps not adjusting to country life as well as he's been letting on. He is married to famous artist Eva (Catalina Sandino Moreno, currently starring on From), who has been hired to sculpt the grand centerpiece of the garden at a proposed development of dream houses. Adam and Eva are currently residing in the first home of this luxurious development, and "after tonight," it will be theirs officially, at least that's the plan. They're buying the place from obnoxious real estate developer, and all-around creep, Lucas (Tom Cullen), who is dating the beautiful Chloe (Inès Spiridonov).
BARBARIANS takes place over a brutally uncomfortable 24 hours. It's Adam's birthday, so Lucas and Chloe are coming to celebrate, and for some reason also do business, at the world's worst dinner party. The four claim to be friends, but from the moment they arrive, it's all backhanded compliments, straight up insults, and tension. To make matters worse, neither of the couples is exactly in the best position to begin with.
Eva absolutely loves the new house. She feels inspired in her art, and wants to really settle down and start a family. Adam, meanwhile, is in over his head, and not handling it well. He takes a run to blow off steam, but ends up coming across a bloody, injured fox that manages to become a blow to his masculinity. Chloe's got a few dirty secrets, and Lucas has become a pariah, thanks to tricking a local man into giving up land that had been in his family for years. Now, put them all together in one country home - a house that one of the sons of said tricked man still does work at - add booze and some hallucinogens, and everything should be just fine.
Cullen's Lucas is so aggro, childish, and arrogant, he's like the walking embodiment of toxic masculinity. That is not to say that Adam is any more emotionally intelligent. At times, he is immature, cowardly, and even cruel, callously revealing a devastating piece of information with no thought of the potential fall-out, just to get a leg up on Lucas. The passive aggression reaches a boiling point when the couples sit down to dinner, and Lucas reveals that instead of selling the home Adam and Eva are living in to them, he wants to sell it to another buyer who has offered to pay more money. Tensions are high, and Adam has revenge on his mind. When things seem to reach a fever pitch, you may think they're saved by the bell, as unexpected guests arrive. However, they are certainly not there to celebrate.
Prior to the arrival of these mask-wearing party crashers, things were chaotic and dangerous. But afterwards, BARBARIANS descends into complete madness. The initial intruder sequence is bizarre, and reminds me a bit of Alex DeLarge and his droogs (but less violent). It just continues to go downhill from there. "Dinner party from hell" is its own niche of thriller, with titles like The Invitation and You're Next, as well as the recent All My Friends Hate Me, and even Silent Night. BARBARIANS holds its own among such movies, with a mania that is uncomfortable to watch.
The vibe of BARBARIANS is very "I've been invited to dinner with the girl who bullied me in high school." The more I watch these type of movies, the more I wonder why we do this kind of stuff to ourselves. These people should not be hanging out, and both of these couples should be in counseling. It's like a case study of people with little desire to look inward and improve upon themselves. Eva is the least upsetting of the troubled foursome, but that is until you look at the work this new house is inspiring, because it is much more Goya's dark period than her personality would seem to suggest. I kind of wish they went deeper into this part of the plot, because it seemed a bit of a supernatural tease, if you will.
There's more mention of that with a nearby stone sculpture, which was the inspiration for Eva's piece. However, those examples aside, BARBARIANS does seem to situate itself in the real world, with horrors that are much more of the human variety. The "monsters" in BARBARIANS are more the couples' bad behaviors than any kind of ghost or curse. They offer up toxic masculinity, disloyalty, self-absorption, and more, with one of the quickest examples of karma coming back to bite you in the a** .
In BARBARIANS, the characters bring out the worst in each other. They each contribute to the negative energy in the supposed dream house, and are guilty of giving in to their baser instincts. It really makes you want to evaluate the people you choose to keep in your life, and if they are enriching it or making things worse. BARBARIANS is kind of like if you took all the animalistic sequences from Mean Girls, and made that a movie. We may have come a long way with technology, electricity, and all kinds of medical discoveries, but when it really comes down to it, we're still all just animals.
If cringeworthy situations are not your jam, BARBARIANS is very much not for you. However, if you, like myself, love drama that doesn't involve you, or enjoy the chaos of all hell (fake) breaking loose, like in The Wilds or Yellowjackets, then you're going to want to add BARBARIANS to your queue.
Catch this terrifying social experiment of a movie in theaters and on demand April 1, 2022.