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Barber, The

Other // R // April 28, 2015
List Price: $20.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted April 25, 2015 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

Seem as if the world of cinema really, really wants audiences to fear thy neighbor right now, more than normal, but that's to be expected following the pop-culture success of the likes of Gone Girl and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, where seemingly normal citizens conceal warped, lethal tendencies. The Barber, the feature-length debut of director Basel Owies, emerges as yet another example among a rash of films exploring the mentality of a serial killer hiding in plain sight, aiming for something bleak and disturbing by emphasizing the fallibility of detective work and the prospect of a protege to a murderer. Beyond the creepy evolution of Scott Glenn's performance and a succession of plot twists that are momentarily intriguing until they're elaborated upon, little distinguishes this grim mystery as it slogs through doubtful, lumbering suspense against the setting of suburban America, missing its opportunity to really dig into the eeriness of this profession as his cover-up.

Think about this for a second: how much does one really know about the person snipping away at their hair and running a razorblade along their skin? In the case of Eugene Van Wingerdt (Glenn), people have had quite a while to get to know the local barber -- at least, what he wants them to know -- given his longstanding, uneventful existence in a nondescript town, despite the past he's hidden from the community involving his suspicion with a series of murders. Some fifteen-odd years after the killings, the traumatized son of one of the unsuccessful detectives on the case, John McCormack, has been tracking him down ... but with obscure motives behind doing so, at first. After hounding Van Wingerdt, also known as Francis Visser, John persuades him to teach the ways of hunting and killing as he supposedly did nearly two decades prior; to what end, however, remains one of the film's mysteries as the old barber maintains appearances and begrudgingly begins his instruction of his protege.

Promo materials for The Barber heavily emphasize Visser's profession, which might lead one to believe that it'll be a distinguishing trait within Basel Owies's thriller, like a grim real-world twist on Sweeney Todd or something. That's really only true on a superficial level, in that this suspected serial killer could've had any number of jobs -- grocery bagger, car salesman, casket maker -- and it wouldn't have really made a dent in screenwriter Max Enscoe's setting, aside from a reference here and there to good razors, paying attention to details, and a single shave and a haircut. Instead, Van Wingerdt's job simply puts him in a high-exposure area where he rubs elbows with all sorts of people, including police chief Hardaway (Stephen Toblowsky), bypassing an opportunity for more intriguing, morbid suspense. Bear in mind, that's partly in-line with the film's goal in making the audience wonder whether he's really the killer or not, but something more could've been done with it to accentuate the mood.

Creepy horror isn't really the tone that Basel Owies aims for with The Barber, though, sharing faint similarities to some of David Fincher's macabre mysteries -- the impetus of Se7en and Zodiac, in particular -- with its streak of suspense. Despite early, foreshadowed suspicions about what the characters are up to, the script telegraphs a handful of surprises in how it shuffles around those truths, navigating through John's ruthless motivations and the barber's haunting past in ways that are moderately intriguing ... for a few brief moments. Regrettably, those slivers of shock are about all the twists have going for 'em, undermined by irrational decision-making and fickle trust placed in strangers so the story can progress, rationality be damned. The personal angle of John McCormick's renegade fanaticism and his romance with undercover cop, Audrey, aren't substantial enough to offset that feeble grasp on common sense, even with Chris Coy's reputable fusion of anxiety and fury around the suspected killer.

The Barber works vigorously to make the audience uncertain of what to make of Francis Visser's feeble frame and cryptic, conservative language, and while that may keep some guessing, it also subtracts from a more menacing villainous presence. Scott Glenn's stern, quietly ominous performance takes a stab at reaching enigmatic depth and misanthropy, yet there's very little that's tangible about the barber's personality beyond his past and enduring deception, mostly out of obligation to the film's secrecy. Unlike the Zodiac Killer's cryptograms or the cultured psychological warfare of Hannibal Lecter, Van Wingerdt only has a line of everyday serial-killer traits -- cleanliness, perception of public awareness, finding girls "yummy" -- to fill out his persona while Basel Owies uses sleight of hand to conceal the facts. When The Barber arrives at its moral dilemma in the end, involving a different sort of box than Se7en's Detective Mills dealt with, the nonplussed and roundabout atmosphere hanging in the air shows they might've cut too much off Visser's character in pursuit of thinly-veiled ambiguity.

The Blu-ray:

Video and Audio:

Arc Entertainment present the digitally-shot The Barber to Blu-ray through a stable, well-coiffed 2.35:1-framed, 1080p AVC transfer. The cinematography's artistic flourishes typically involve little details explored with depth-of-field -- the shine of a straight razor, the distortions of a glass disinfectant bottle, facial hair and age wrinkles -- which either display impressive clarity or just enough to get beyond the inherent flatness of the source, while static elements like wood grain and clothing textiles are satisfyingly clear. Prominent douses of color aren't too frequent, limited to refractions of a turquoise bottle or the embers of a cigarette, but they're strong and effective where needed. Instead, it's all about color balance against the film's shifts in temperature, both small-town warm and crime-drama blue, which are convincing and undistorted. Black levels are somewhat weak, leaning gray and washed out during dim sequences. Brushing a few issues aside, The Barber's done up quite well in HD.

Might come as a surprise, but there are a number of striking sonic elements going on in The Barber, whether it's the slug of a baseball bat against a back, the shattering of a glass ashtray, or the atmospheric scrape of a razor and creak of a barber's chair. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track handles those higher-impact elements with a strong amount of composure and precision, gracefully tapping into the bass channel for oomph while the upper-end aggressiveness spreads neatly across the front channels. It's surprising, then, to also deals with a number of audibility issues with the dialogue, mumbled and muted in a few instances that required a little rewinding and volume-pumping. Surround channels are fairly active, though, driven by the atmosphere of the mid-sized down when outdoors -- both the chirping of birds and the bustle of cars and commotion on the streets -- and the requisite stillness indoors, serviceably balanced against the music. It's alright, but keep your remote handy.

Special Features:

Beyond a Trailer (2:20, 16x9 HD) that comes awfully close to divulging too many details about the plot, Arc Entertainment have also included a series of Deleted Scenes, many of which were wise removals, and a pair of Extended Scenes that really don't help anything.

Final Thoughts:

The Barber has a few twists and turns as a thriller that make for a passable Rental, coupled with a handful of moderate performances spearheaded by Scott Glenn. The character-driven mysteries lying underneath the saga of Francis Visser aren't surprising or compelling enough to muster much beyond that, though, where the reveals and knuckle-headed decisions don't hold up to too much scrutiny. Arc Entertainment's Blu-ray looks strong and sounds fine for those up for a night of dubious suspense.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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