Every once in a while, we get a horror movie that really pops. This year has given us films like X and The Black Phone, and now, we’re getting a new horror movie from an unexpected source. Actor/comedian Zach Cregger writes and directs barbarian. This thriller follows a woman named Tess Marshall (Georgina Campbell) who finds a mild-mannered stranger named Keith (Bill Skarsgård) staying at her rental home de ella. This is an absurd, full-throttle horror flick that keeps you guessing from the beginning and has a ton of fun with its premise.
The joy of horror movies comes from their ability to ruin obsolete things. Psycho ruined showers, The Invitation ruined 23AndMe, and now, barbarian ruins Airbnb. This movie begins with Tess and Keith’s meet-cute, as they find themselves stuck in the same rental house. Keith is a nice, understanding guy, but we never know whether we should trust him or not. It’s hard to decide if his kindness is genuine or a guise for something sinister. Perhaps it’s Skarsgård’s history as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, but you’re just not sure about this nice guy who’s a little too friendly. You want to keep watching to find out.
That’s what barbarian does so well. It builds mysteries and enhances the suspense surrounding those mysteries. It starts almost like a romantic comedy, with this man and woman meeting under unexpected circumstances and hitting it off. But you know what you’re getting into when you go into a movie with this title, poster, and trailer. You’re not here for a fun, cute film about two people hitting it off under the same roof. You’re here for the dark turn the film will take. And when this movie goes dark, it goes for it and commits.
barbarian is the type of movie perfect for watching in a crowd of people. It’s the film where audiences can’t help but yell at the screen and react to the shocking moments. As Tess wanders through the dark corridors of the house, there is an incredible amount of tension. While she turns every corner, we never know what she will find or what may happen to her. You always discover new things about the characters, and this movie succeeds with its unpredictability. You can never reasonably guess what will happen next in this film, and the places this film goes are never quite where you’d expect.
Campbell is excellent as the protagonist, doing much with her scream queen turn. Skarsgård gives an outstanding performance in his role as Ella, and Justin Long does a superb job. It’s been a while since Long has appeared in any high-profile films, but he shows his skills from him in barbarian. While his performance by him starts a little too comedic for the movie’s generally dark tone, he gets a lot to do with a character we are not supposed to like. While the film could have done more with the characters and their journeys, they are continually investing to watch.
Cregger does quite a great job with the horror direction. He adeptly uses darkness and light sources throughout and commits to the uncomfortable imagery. The story is unafraid to go to dark places, and with his strong directorial vision and absolute bonkers ideas, this movie is made for people who liked films like last year’s malignant. The film has its faults, such as an occasional frustrating choice surrounding the characters’ tendency to drop things and fall or the overly dismissive police officer. Still, even if a few ideas and characters could be fleshed out more, barbarian is brutal, insane, unrelenting horror film that feels offbeat and wholly original.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 7 equates to “Good.” A successful piece of entertainment that is worth checking out, but it may not appeal to everyone.
Disclosure: The critic attended a press screening for ComingSoon’s barbarian review.