Barbarians

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Barbarians might have the most appropriate movie title of the year. Several of the characters in it act like barbarians. Those who do not have to become barbaric in order to survive a hellish night. The fun is in watching how all of this happens. Director Charles Dorfman's debut is a wicked tale, packed with dark humor and crazy violence. Sensitive viewers might want to stay away. Those with an appreciation for edginess should strap in for a wild, totally enjoyable ride.

Adam (Iwan Rheon) and Eva (Catalina Sandino Moreno) are buying a beautiful country house. To celebrate that – and Adam's birthday – their friends Lucas (Tom Cullen) and Chloe (Ines Spiridonov) come over for dinner. Lucas is the land developer who sold them on the place to begin with. The meal doesn't quite go as planned. Lucas is a bit of a tool, prodding Adam cruelly and, later on, dropping an upsetting surprise on the couple. Then the doorbell rings, spiraling an already chaotic night into even further chaos.

Obviously, I'm talking around what transpires. Part of the movie's appeal is how the plot makes you think it's going down a particular road, then abruptly makes a left turn and goes somewhere else instead. There are two sections to the story. The first, which runs for roughly an hour, is about emotional cruelty, with Lucas gradually revealing that he's not nearly the good friend he presents himself as. The second, comprising the final thirty minutes, involves physical cruelty, as the characters become locked into a life-and-death battle.

If those elements didn't mesh well, the movie would fall apart. Barbarians gets the mix exactly right, tying the sections together so that one compliments the other, and our understanding of these people deepens as a result. In doing that, we're asked to consider what we'd be willing to put up with. What is the thing that could ostensibly push us over the edge? And, on the flip side, what are we capable of that might push somebody else over the edge?

Effective performances from the central quartet of actors bring the material and its themes to life. Each of their characters is a different personality type. Together, they create a fascinating dynamic. Laughs are often derived from how these four individuals ping off one another. At times they get along, at others they humorously clash. From minute to minute, you don't know which it will be. That creates a unique kind of suspense. When all hell breaks loose in the last act, the bonds – good and bad – are challenged.

Barbarians even tosses in a killer Encino Man joke. After all is said and done, no one walks away unscathed. It's literally a life-changing night. You wouldn't want to live through what these folks endure. Seeing them go through it, though, is a three-course meal of deliciously nasty fun.


out of four

Barbarians is unrated, but contains adult language, graphic violence, and some drug content. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.