Thursday 14 April 2022

Review: Barbarians

Year: 2022

Director: Charles Dorfman

Screenplay: Charles Dorfman, Statten Roeg

Starring: Catalina Sandino Moreno, Tom Cullen, Iwan Rheon, Will Kemp

Synopsis is here

There’s an element of wickedness when a Barbarians is released a few weeks after news of the U. K’s cost of living reaching the lowest point in 50 years. Charles Dorfman’s home invasion thriller deals with a country home being purchased by a toxic real estate influencer, who looks set to pass everything on to his younger screenwriter brother and his artist girlfriend. Moments of some of the self-absorbed behaviour track well. Tom Cullen who plays Lucas, the laddish older brother has an obnoxiousness that slaps you in the face like a bad smell. Lobbing words like viral and engagement around like marketing hand grenades, even as he prepares to offload this dream home to his brother, he does so with some arsey hardball negotiation. In watching the earlier scenes, the unattainable nature of what’s occurring feels all too real.    

This is a distraction to what Barbarians wishes to talk about. Taking cues from earlier films such as Straw Dogs (1971), while leaning into the more recent ‘millennial dining thrillers’ such as The Invitation (2015), You’re Next (2011), Ready or Not (2019) and Silent Night (2021) Barbarians observes the often-touched themes of primal violence under the veneer of civilized culture. The film’s early segments have Adam and Lucas sitting down to dinner to seal the deal. Joining them are their attractive, Mediterranean significant others Eva (Catalina Sandino Moreno) and Chloe (Inès Spiridonov) respectively. Their inconsequential chatter about current affairs, soon turns hostile between the two brothers, before their meal is interrupted by some imposing large men wearing animal masks. As these films go.  

Toxic Masculinity is mentioned in so many internet articles, Twitter threads and Instagram stories, that it’s starting to feel like a buzzword. However, Barbarians is invested in exploring the topic. And does so efficiently if although slightly typically. Cullen’s Lucas is unattractively fuelled by his machoism and self-absorption from the start. It’s impressive how quickly his live social media person begins to grate. As does his alpha posturing in front of the other members of the party. He’s the kind of man you just want to punch in the face. Of course, he’s also the kind of man who invites that type of aggression. Iwan Rheon, who plays the watery-eyed subordinate brother; Adam (make note of the name) is in familiar territory here. Rheon came to fame as the withdrawn arsonist Simon in the E4 Superhero show Misfits. His personality was so introverted, that his chosen power became the ability to become invisible. His role here is not much of a stretch. Playing a docile “beta” to his louder brother, his subservience is so profound that he holds no ability to stand up to anyone. Later revelations quickly have the writer swiftly emasculated with a dismissive “good boy”. Establishing his lowly position on the totem pole.

While being a relatively predictable piece, Barbarians deals in its fair share of violence and melodrama with energy and style. It’s worth noting how Charles Dorfman is more than happy to have the middle section of his film have a rather minimal amount of dialogue, allowing the visuals to tell the story over dull, expository verbiage. The film may only be a simple update on themes of emasculation and home invasion. Yet it does everything with an assertive amount of confidence. It’s a genre piece that does the basics rather well. Sometimes. That’s all you need.    

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