There's Something in the Barn - Fantastic Fest World Premiere
Director: Magnus Martens
Starring: Martin Starr, Amrita Acharia, Townes Bunner, Zoe Winter Hansen, Kiran Shah
Written by: Aleksander Kirkwood Brown
Produced by: Kjetil Omberg, Jørgen Storm Rosenberg, Nicholas Sando
Cinematography by: Mika Orasmaa
Original Score by: Lasse Enersen
After inheriting his Uncle’s estate in Norway, Bill and his family move into their new home with the dream of turning the property into a bed and breakfast but the discovery of an ancient elf living in the barn causes issues.
Horror films set during Christmas with festive themed creatures have always been a niche but fun sub genre for decades. From 'Krampus' to 'Rare Exports' to the granddaddy of them all, 'Gremlins' they've entertained as much as they've frightened audiences. The latest is the Norwegian based production, 'There's Something in the Barn'. The film sees the Nordheim family making the move from America to Norway after the patriarch of the family inherits a rural farmhouse. But this is no ordinary farmhouse as the barn next to it is the residence of an elf whose attitude towards the Nordheim's turns very sour very quickly, leading to all manners of bloody mischief and chaos.
The film opens with an unremarkable prologue to set up the elvish threat. In the scene we find an old man frantically trying to set his barn on fire only to fall for the stupidest trap imaginable which leads him to inadvertently setting himself on fire. Despite its intention it ultimately feels redundant in the grand scheme of the film.
From here we are introduced to the main characters of the film, the Nordheim family who have inherited the farmhouse from the beginning. They fit the mould of the Griswold family from the 'Vacation' movies but feel like a lower grade version of them. There's the eternal optimist father Bill (Martin Starr), his supportive wife Carol (Amrita Acharia), their moody teenage daughter Nora (Zoe Winter-Hansen) and the lonely yet curious son Lucas (Townes Bunner). None of their performances particularly stand out and feel like they are performing on a Hallmark movie level but this feels intentional. Unfortunately it doesn't fit in the film and falls completely flat.
On top of this they are so one dimensional that there is nothing to latch onto as they rhyme off every cliché and trope associated with their character description. They also spout endless streams of tired dialogue that makes the film more cumbersome than it needs to be. It is so bad that whenever they come under attack from the elven army you pray that the little creatures win to put the Nordheim family out of the audience's misery.
One of the better aspects of the film are the elves themselves from a makeup perspective. There is a real craft on show to bring them to life and to add some personality to the different characters when they could so easily get lost in the mix. Having said that, some of the writing works against this as the "rules" surrounding them are contradictory. For example the elves are supposed to have an aversion to bright lights and loud noises but in the third act they are blaring loud music in the brightly lit house when they decide to have a party. Even during their initial threat any sense of threat or menace they carry is dispelled almost in an instant when Nora easily dispatches a few of them with a baseball bat. It's an entertaining scene but again some dire dialogue tries its best to undercut it.
The inconsistencies don't end there. The film is billed as being a horror comedy but the problem with this is that the attempt in combining these genres results in something that doesn't frighten or so much as evoke a snigger throughout. It is incredibly frustrating to watch as it fails at both these levels. Any attempts at horror don't work due to predictable jump scares which are telegraphed by janking noises in the score. There isn't so much as a sliver of tension or fear to the atmosphere. The comedic aspects of the film don't fare much better either. The first act teases a bit of fish out of water humour as they adapt to the
Norwegian way of life but it amounts to nothing. This vaguely hints that maybe the film is trying to say something about the grossest aspects of American commercialism being imposed on European countries around Christmas time but that would be giving the film too much credit as I was trying to let my mind escape from how vapid it all is.
A premise like this seems like a sure fire hit at making a holiday based romp with the odd scare but the film amounts to nothing more than a miserable watch. Any cheer evoked from the holiday setting is sucked out of it through some annoying characters and a script full of irritating dialogue. There may be something in the barn but there is nothing to recommend on screen.
- Joseph McElroy
'There's Something in the Barn' received its World Premiere at Fantastic Fest '23 on September 23rd