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[Fantastic Fest ’21] ‘Barbarians’ review: First time director Charles Dorfman shocks and captivates audiences

Gateway drug.

Barbarians sees first time director Charles Dorfman take on a number of different themes. The story is about two couples at an uneasy dinner party. They are outwardly friendly, but it is clear all is not right between the four. As the night progresses what seems like a simple, but tense night becomes far worse than any of the four could have imagined.

First time directors experience plenty of growing pains. In an interview with AIPT, Dorfman stated he was worried things would not go exactly as planned, but he was also willing to accept these mistakes as part of the experience. Barbarians has its issues, but nothing ruins the enjoyment of the film. On the contrary, Dorfman does a lot of interesting things in his debut. There are a number of “God’s eye view” shots that show the enormity of the world and the insignificant amount of space people take up in them, for example.

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It is hard to describe Barbarians without spoiling it. It is a thriller, character study, and even has elements of folk horror. If it sounds like a lot is happening, that is because there is. Everything moves along in terse conversations as a palpable layer of tensions simmers just below the surface. This adds more suspense to the proceedings. There is no way of knowing what is going to happen at any given moment.

'Barbarians' never feels overwhelming.

Many stories make the mistake of trying to do too much. While there are a number of topics addressed in Barbarians, it never feels overwhelming. Each interaction and conversation point adds to the overall story or characters. Dorfman wanted to create realistic people and relationships without walking the audience through everything. This comes across well and will draw audiences in.

Dorfman acknowledges that the final act of Barbarians was a risk. It is also a testament to the strong writing. In order for the plot twist to work, anyone watching will have to be invested in the characters and the drama being presented. Things explain themselves – there is even some foreshadowing – but if the film is not engrossing, no one will stick around to see where things end up. In this case, the end result is a captivating film.

Barbarians is available on FF@Home through October 2. Check out AIPT’s ongoing coverage.

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