In a year full of great horror films, it’s saying something that Barbarian is somewhat of standout amongst the genre. To get it out of the way, I wouldn’t necessarily say this is my favorite horror film of the year thus far nor would I say it’s the scariest one – but what I can say for Barbarian is something that may have it stand the test of time for all of eternity, and that it’s genuinely unlike anything I’ve seen before and feels genuinely subversive, crude, and abrasive in ways I never expected it to be. It feels like the type of genre film that is never made nowadays and yet, by some miracle, it not only did but is getting a wide-release despite it’s genuinely fucked-up content. Will this be a success? I have no idea. But I know horror fans will be discussing and referencing it for years to come.
The film begins with Tess (Georgina Campbell) who discovers she has double booked an Airbnb in Detroit with a guy named Keith (Bill Skarsgård) – after much back and forth about what to do to rectify the situation and make it work for the both of them, they mutually agree to stay together in the house until they can get it sorted out. From the moment the film starts outside the house and as we quickly make our way inside to meet Keith and get to know Tess, the film does a wonderful job at laying the groundwork of not only these characters but the world we live in today. There’s so much tension due to the fact that neither of them know each other, and that Tess is clearly suspecting of a man and how his position in this situation is immediately terrifying to her. Within the first twenty minutes, the film has an interesting exploration of gender roles, our loyalty and commitment to apps like Airbnb or social media in general, and more! I was floored by how smart and sharp the opening to this film was.
And right when the film shifts gears is what I can stop talking about specifically, as this film is heavily secretive with its marketing. Now having seen the film, I completely understand why – all I’ll allude to is the basement of the Airbnb being a gateway to the secrets of the film that you don’t want to know any specifics about. So, with that being said, when the film begins to unravel the mystery of the basement and the characters inevitably try to make their way down there – the film keeps all the smart writing and sharp direction intact while injecting the narrative with a genuinely unsettling horror element that is so downright disturbing and unsettling that I’m still thinking about all of it days after my screening.
Director Zach Cregger absolutely brings it behind the camera. There are so many sequences of genuine terror and disgusting imagery on display here that, as a lifetime horror nerd, I couldn’t help but gleefully get excited and hide behind my eyes with terror in equal-measure. Locking in at 102 minutes, Barbarian is one of the rare horror films that not only delivers on all the thrills and chills you want when you buy a ticket, but it also doesn’t overstay its welcome or over-complicate its narrative at any-given point. It’s also genuinely never, at any given point, what you’re expecting it to be.
My only real gripe with the film is one that I’m curious about whether or not I’ll still have upon further reflection or even a rewatch – but it feels like the film does cut itself short of being truly fantastic and settles for just being really good/kinda great. And I get it – being kinda great is a good thing, right? Absolutely. But this film had me by the throat, and cuts to black right when I was at my most excited. Even aside from my own frustrations, I do genuinely think the themes and characters could’ve used just a few more minutes/sequences to fully round out everything it was trying to say. But I am also so enamored by the film that I am convinced I could be reading this all completely wrong and will come back to revise this review and admit that I didn’t appreciate the ending for what it was. Who knows!
At the end of the day, Barbarian is so goddamn original that I’m ecstatic that it exists – even with my minor gripes. It absolutely rules. Please see it if you want to support original horror movies!