Fantastic Fest Review: ‘Barbarians’ is a brutal but familiar take on toxic masculinity

Imagine for a moment a dinner party. Four friends coming together after an absence to celebrate the purchase of a home and the beginnings of a new chapter in all their lives. This is the setting of Barbarians. It is a simple enough setup, and with the right characterisations and right narrative push, it’s the kind of setup that a compelling story can be told from, and Barbarians (mostly) pulls that off.

Adam (Game of Thrones star Iwan Rheon) and his partner Eva (Catalina Sandino Moreno) are the happy couples welcoming their friend Lucas (Tom Cullen) and his partner Chloe, their long-standing friends and from whom they are to conclude buying a house. That’s what the dinner is for, to celebrate. Adam, a writer, is soft-spoken and repressed, but every inch of his body is taut with rage, compared to Lucas, a social media influencer, who is precisely the kind of alpha male jerk that makes some aspects of social media so repulsive, the type of guy who peddles life advice but is only there for the grift.

As the night goes on and secrets come out, things get tenser and tenser, there’s a fox that may or may not be dead, and eventually, a group of three masked intruders burst in and take everyone hostage.

It’s not an unfamiliar plot, but Rheon and Cullen are so good in their parts that you won’t care. Rheon, in particular, takes this character in the complete opposite direction of his character from Game of Thrones, both are full of anger and resentment, but where Ramsay Bolton was an outright psychopath, Adam is filled to the brim with bitterness and anger that he is obviously struggling to contain. Each is a different example of toxic masculinity, and when they finally collide, things get ugly fast.

First-time director Charles Dorfman not only coaxes some great performances out of his two leads but has a good eye for tension building and tone. Unfortunately, the film falls apart a little at the end; when the action is taken outside in the dead of night, and there is so little illumination, it becomes difficult to see what is happening.

Still, between the two leads, the setting, and the well-controlled tone of the film, it is easy to recommend despite its flaws.

Rating: 3/5

Barbarians played as part of Fantastic Fest 2021. No Canadian release information is available at this time.

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