There’s Something in the Barn (2023) Review – Fantastic Fest
It’s the end of September, so it’s time for two things: pumpkin spice on everything and the start of Christmas marketing. And just in time, the Norwegian holiday horror-comedy There’s Something in the Barn makes its world premiere at Fantastic Fest.
Bill (Martin Starr, Samaritan, The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu) inherits his uncle’s house in Norway after the man dies in a freak accident. We, of course, know it was no accident, and soon enough so will Bill, his wife (Amrita Acharia, Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead, White Chamber) and Bill’s kids Nora (Zoe Winther-Hansen, The 12th Man, Catch and Release) and Lucas (Townes Bunner) will too.
They relocate from California to Norway with plans to open a bed and breakfast, but complications ensue. Both in the obvious cultural differences and, more ominously, what Lucas discovers living in the barn.
It’s a nisse or barn elf (Kiran Shah, Harvey Putter and the Ridiculous Premise, The People That Time Forgot). He’s a jolly little fellow who lives in a barn and in return helps around a farm. But it also hates bright lights, loud noises or any kind of change to its home. Faced with that it becomes not so jolly and will react violently to protect the status quo.
The first hour of the script by Aleksander Kirkwood Brown (The Ash Lad: In the Hall of the Mountain King, Stardust) leans more on culture shock comedy than horror as the family tries to adapt to their new home, and the locals try to make sense of their new neighbours. Magnus Martens (SAS: Red Notice, The Walking Dead: World Beyond) gets good mileage out of everything from the family’s encounter with a moose and its calf to Bill’s attempt to get a gun. “We don’t go around shooting each other in the head here,” the sheriff (Henriette Seenstrup, Ragnarok, The Ash Lad: In Search of the Golden Castle) tells him.
There’s Something in the Barn even gets good usage out of overworked tropes like Nora’s misery at suddenly finding herself living in the middle of nowhere, the kids’ issues with their stepmother and her ditzy “Happyvision” life coaching technique.
It’s all quite funny with just an undercurrent of threat provided by the presence of the elf. He and Billy establish a sort of friendship, but we also know what he’s capable of when angered. And, despite Billy’s best efforts to dissuade them, the adults continually do things to annoy the little guy, culminating with plans to host a party in the barn.
As you might expect There’s Something in the Barn stages it’s on Christmas Eve as the elf and some of his friends launch an assault on the family, and anyone unlucky enough to get in the way. Up until that point, the film feels more like Krampus, Gremlins or other family friendly horror film. Which makes some of the last act’s deaths feel more shocking than they normally would. One of the best deaths does have to bend the rules a bit, one would think that creatures who hate noise would not turn out to be avid snowmobilers, but There’s Something in the Barn makes it work. And what happens when one of the elves gets their hands on a gun is a bit of delightfully dark humour as is the exploding tree ornament.
While not as bloody as the advance word had me expecting, There’s Something in the Barn does have some decently horrific moments. The elves themselves thankfully are costumed actors, not CGI. Looking like angry garden gnomes and growling menacingly in Norwegian they’re like a dwarven Black Metal band minus the corpse paint. And that is a rather scary image.
A fun film with an enthusiastic cast, There’s Something in the Barn may not become a lot of people’s Christmas Eve film, but I can see it being a regular part of their seasonal viewing.
There’s Something in the Barn made its debut at this year’s Fright Fest and has been picked up in several countries for distribution later this year.