Barbarians

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Barbarians
"Although the story is essentially quite simple, it’s beautifully framed, both narratively and visually." | Photo: Courtesy of FrightFest

Adam (Iwan Rheon) is writing a book. He’s wanted to do so throughhout his life and now that he and his artist partner Eva (Catalina Sandinbo Moreno) have settled into their beautiful new house at The Gateway, the time has come. It’s about a primitive man living in modern society, he explains. One of his guests, Lucas (Tom Cullen) laughs at him and tells him that it’s already been done, citing the Brendan Fraser film California Man. Adam tries to explain that he’s aiming for something very different, but he can’t get a word in, and soon the conversation has moved on.

The directorial début of Charles Dorfman, whose work as a producer includes The Lost Daughter, address themes around masculinity, territoriality and the perceived possession of women by men. It’s not terribly subtle but it gets away with that because of its blend of sometimes aggressive, sometimes slyly observational humour, and because it delivers as a thriller. Adam and Eva love their home but, as Lucas’ property deals are rather complicated, it’s still not guaranteed to remain theirs. Lucas’ other half, Chloe (Inès Spiridonov), shares a secret with Adam which has fresh repercussions, and then there’s the matter of Lucas’ former business partner, who has recently died, leaving Lucas open to allegations of dodgy dealings around the initial acquisition of the Gateway properties.

From the start, Adam’s masculinity is called into question. He’s not tall enough. He’s too sensitive. He’s too hesitant to throw a punch. He comports himself like a modern man living in a primitive society. Lucas gets physical with him at the first opportunity, humiliates him, calls him a pussy. It’s display behaviour, carried out in front of the women. When dinner is interrupted by something more shockingly primitive, however, Lucas’ beliefs about his own prowess are called into question. The women demonstrate physical competence of their own, and Adam finds himself pushed into increasingly extreme situations as events conspire to try to bring out something primitive within him.

The film is rather formally structured, divided into chapters, set in a home which is all straight lines and symmetries. An wilful exercise in destruction which takes place halfway through recalls A Clockwork Orange in its use of symmetry and dance as well as some aspects of costume. Around the edges of the action, other forms intrude. Eva’s art is very different in nature, and it’s she who has created the megalith which sits at the centre of the symmetrical property development. There’s a discrete suggestion of supernatural forces at work, which seems a suitable motif through which to interpret primitive instincts coming to the fore.

Rheon has been typecast a fair bit since his iconic turn in Game Of Thrones so it’s pleasing to see him get to do something different here, and his performance is a big asset to the film. Although the story is essentially quite simple, it’s beautifully framed, both narratively and visually, with a modern aesthetic which itself contributes to the central metaphor. It’s a smart and entertaining thriller which makes a small budget go a long way.

Reviewed on: 04 Apr 2022
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A dinner party in a country house sees four friends come together for a birthday celebration, but as the night progresses secrets emerge and unsettling events begin to unfold around them.

Director: Charles Dorfman

Writer: Charles Dorfman

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

Year: 2021

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: UK

Festivals:

Frightfest 2021

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