Barbarians: Unfurnished Home Invasion, by Sarah Brinks
Home invasion movies are a popular genre, likely for the obvious reason that it is something most people fear. Our homes are meant to be our safe place, our sanctuary from fear. Barbarians takes the idea and shifts it slightly. While there is an actual home invasion near the end of the film, the real invasion is the dinner guests who turn the protagonists’ lives upside down. Adam and Eva are married artists. Adam is a film director and Eva is a famous sculptor. They are the first residents living in a new upscale development in the country outside of London. They are days away from owning their home; they just need to get through dinner with their mutual friend and real estate developer, Lucas. Lucas is, quite plainly, a jerk. He is obsessed with his social media and his image and he relentlessly mocks Adam.
The rest of the plot is fairly straightforward. A group of friends have a dinner where many secrets are revealed and dinner is then interrupted by a home invasion. Men in stylized animal masks and jumpsuits tie them up at gunpoint and destroy their home.
The performances in the film are very strong. Iwan Rheon continues to show his range by very believably playing Adam as the less successful artist in his marriage who is trying to put a brave face on. Catalina Sandino Moreno plays the more successful Eva. She is clearly the stronger person in the relationship but also shows Eva’s vulnerability and desire to make her marriage work. She knows Adam’s weaknesses and tries to fill those gaps with her strength. She is also the only one willing to stand up to Lucas.
But the real standout performance is Tom Cullen as Lucas. Lucas is the quintessential “bro.” He is handsome and successful and, as a result, utterly intolerable. He cannot get off his phone, constantly making videos of himself showing off. He also loves the sound of his own voice. Thus, he almost never shuts up. He pretends to be the expert on every topic but the moment anyone steps up to him or his masculinity is threatened in any way, he completely shuts down. The dinner scenes and conversation are painful because of his personality, especially when he belittles Adam.
I would also call out Will Kemp, who plays the invader in the crow mask. I believe Kemp’s performance is entirely silent but he has a tremendous physical presence. He gets the fun role of destroying the living room of Adam and Eva’s beautiful home. He embodies a mix of glee and menace as he destroys the room piece by piece.
Barbarians has a few legitimate jump scares; the first one having to do with an injured fox got a true gasp out of me. However, my challenge with the film is that it never quite commits enough to any one genre to entirely work. There are some strange moments in the film that seem to be linked to a standing stone near the development. The entire development is named after and marketed as being near this reportedly magical “gateway stone.” However, the film never quite goes far enough for you to believe that magic is the root or cause of anything.
The home invasion happens in the last 30 minutes of the film. When the home invasion happens the men in masks are cruel but not masochistic and it never quite pushes far enough into in horror either. The masks are creepy and there is a hint at a Celtic or magical connection but the lack of clarity leaves that feeling empty too.
The first half of the film is arguably the stronger half. It is focused on complicated relationships between a group of people. The drama comes from trying to navigate a situation where each party has a desired outcome but those outcomes are often in conflict with each other. It’s fun to watch Cullen so successfully play a character I would never want to be seated next to at a dinner party. Once the home invasion happens the intensity certainly spikes but I don’t find the ending satisfying. I was left wanting more of something but not sure what that something was.