Fantastic Fest 2023: There’s Something in the Barn Offers a Fun Riff on a Beloved Genre Classic

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Elves can be many things. For example, in some stories, they’re tall, beautiful warriors, and in other iterations, they’re tiny, peaceful cookie-makers who live in trees. They’re some of the most malleable fantasy creatures around, so when I first heard that There’s Something in the Barn was going to turn them into angry killers, I was immediately sold. I couldn’t wait to dive into this horrific version of elvish lore, and after finally getting a chance to see the film, I’m happy to report that it totally delivers.

There’s Something in the Barn was directed by Magnus Martens, and it stars Martin Starr, Amrita Acharia, Townes Bunner, Zoe Winther-Hansen, Kiran Shah, and Calle Hellevang Larsen. It’s a horror-comedy about an American family who move to Norway after the father inherits his uncle’s estate, and at first, their new life seems pretty boring. There’s not a ton to do there, and the family has some trouble adjusting. But that all changes pretty quickly. Sometime after they arrive, the son discovers an elf living in their barn, and one of the locals tells him that he has to follow three rules to keep the creature happy.

He tries to follow the man’s instructions, and he actually starts to form a relationship with his newfound barn mate. Unfortunately, nobody else in his family believes the elf is real, so his parents and his sister proceed to break all the rules with almost reckless abandon. They anger the creature over and over, and eventually, it becomes too much for the poor thing to bear. It lashes out in anger, and when the family proves a bit more formidable than it expected, it summons a veritable elf army to help drive these people out. From there, the movie turns into an all-out fight for survival, and truth be told, things don’t look too good for the humans.

If you’re a horror connoisseur, that plot synopsis might sound a bit familiar to you, and I’m not just referring to the numerous films that involve a swarm of small(ish) monsters terrorizing a group of unsuspecting victims. There’s Something in the Barn is a very intentional riff on one particular entry in that subgenre–Gremlins–and if you’re familiar with that movie, the parallels are just about impossible to miss.

For example, both of these films center around a kid who has a special relationship with a rare and fantastical creature, and in both cases, they have to follow certain rules to keep their new companions happy. What’s more, when the humans break those rules, all-out monster mayhem ensues, but it’s not always violent. The gremlins also like to have a good time, and as you might be able to guess, there’s a scene in There’s Something in the Barn where the elves have a booze-fueled party of their own.

An elf smashing a car's windshield

Sure, there are plenty of differences too, but the similarities are too specific to ignore. There’s Something in the Barn is an obvious homage to Gremlins, but it’s not just a cheap rip-off. This is a well-crafted horror-comedy in its own right, and like Gremlins, it’s a total blast.

For example, the father of the family is portrayed by Martin Starr, the actor who plays the clueless teacher in the MCU Spider-Man films, and if you’ve seen any of those movies, you know how hysterical this guy can be. He excels at playing stupid, weak-willed, and overly naive characters, and those comedic chops are on full display here.

This hapless father is a hoot and a half, and his family isn’t too far behind. In particular, I really enjoyed his daughter Nora, played by Zoe Winther-Hansen. She’s a stereotypically b*tchy teenage girl, and to make matters worse, she absolutely doesn’t want to be in Norway. She makes those feelings very clear to her parents, and the contrast between them (especially her father) and her is pretty hilarious.

Along similar lines, the horror in There’s Something in the Barn is a total riot as well. Like most horror-comedies, this film is more about having fun than being scared, so don’t expect hardcore chills or copious amounts of blood and gore. It’s just a good time with monsters, and if that’s all you’re looking for, I think you’re going to enjoy the hell out of this movie.

Director Magnus Martens does a great job of weaving some amazing, almost cartoonish gags into the horror, so he keeps the action fun and light-hearted the entire time, no matter how bleak things may look for the poor family. To take just one example, there’s a scene where one of the characters throws a bomb into a group of elves, but it doesn’t blow up right away. It takes a while, so at first, the elves think it’s a dud. They become overly confident, but after a few moments, the thing explodes and allows the humans to get away.

There’s Something in the Barn is full of similarly Looney Toons-esque moments, and they perfectly complement the horror of seeing a horde of bloodthirsty elves descend upon our protagonists. It’s a monstrously amusing mixture, and it comes together perfectly to make one of the most fun genre films I’ve seen all year. When the credits began to roll, the movie left me with a big smile on my face, and if you get a chance to watch it, I think you’ll love it just as much as I did.

There’s Something in the Barn had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest on September 23, and it had a second screening on September 26.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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