“THE BARBER” (Film Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Ken W. Hanley
Following the demise of the slasher film, torture porn and home invasion horror, serial killer thrillers looked to be next on the chopping block as human-based horror fell out of vogue. After all, successive entries in the genre weren’t necessarily reinventing the wheel, as many of these films shared same stalking and killing scenes beat by beat. But among the monotony of the serial killer subgenre, there’d be one or two diamonds in the rough, bolstered by exceptional performances and an inventive approach that at least played with the audience expectations. Luckily, Basel Owies’ THE BARBER is one of those films, a descent into darkness with some refreshing surprises and suspense along the way.
THE BARBER opens a bit generically, with an exposition-laden prologue about a wrongfully accused suspect, an obsessed detective and an at-large killer who specializes in burying his prey alive. Years later, this suspect is living anew as the town’s beloved barber, now with an assumed identity and a penchant for privacy. But when someone close to the case shows up, he’s not entirely convinced of the man’s innocence, and tracks him down; not for justice, but for guidance in his own psychopathic tendencies. From there, the film becomes a thrilling game of psychological cat and mouse, with each man harboring their own secrets that raises coalesces into an intense and frightening confrontation.
Despite its explicit premise, THE BARBER really works best at its most restrained, allowing implication and subtlety to take precedence in the narrative, offering something closer to APT PUPIL than HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER. In doing so, THE BARBER establishes a sense of atmosphere that allows an air of suspense to surround its central characters, and set up their respective long cons in a way that you never quite figure out their true intention. But Max Enscoe’s excellent screenplay also doesn’t disappoint on delivering the horror either, allowing the scarier sequences to play out to their most unsettling potential.
Basel Owies does a solid job behind the camera on THE BARBER, proving an adept talent for directing actors as well as tone-driven storytelling in his first feature. Owies also establishes a sense of cinematic scope to THE BARBER, elevating the film from it’s low budget origins to something that feels much more precise and creepy. He’s not alone, however; cinematographer Allen Liu also delivers big, offering a visual styling that’s familiar and yet striking, especially once the film goes into full-on horror in the final act. And to that extent, the music from Freddy Sheinfeld also helps punctuate the fright fare, creating an all-the-more satisfying aural experience.
But THE BARBER truly excels on the part of its excellent cast, many of whom are at the top of their game. Scott Glenn, of course, steals the show as the titular character, and his traditional morality and courteousness makes his darker turns all the more realistic. Likewise, Chris Coy, who is quickly becoming a genre talent to notice between THE BARBER and THE WALKING DEAD, is absolutely dynamite as Glenn’s foil, and sells every intense aspect of his character in spades. Furthermore, the film really offers some great supporting performances, with special notes to go for Kristen Hager, Max Arciniega and an against-type Stephen Tobolowsky.
While THE BARBER is by no means a perfect production, it’s still an incredibly strong debut from Owies with some strong performances and even stronger storytelling. Despite pacing problems, THE BARBER has some great suspense on display, much of which is paid off in a most satisfying way. And best of all, THE BARBER doesn’t try to hide it’s horror genesis, creating a serial killer thriller that’s much more focusing on the thrilling but never forgets about the killing.