If there is one piece of solid advice that can be given going into a film like Barbarian it’s this – go into it completely blind. Don’t look up any spoilers or plot details about the latest horror film on the release schedule. Not only will it enhance the viewing experience of the Zach Cregger written and directed film, but it will also leave a resounding impression afterwards, staying in your subconscious while you pinch yourself over and over, wondering if what just happened really played out on screen. Movies are experiences, something we get to enjoy in a crowded room together and Barbarian is another addition to that list of releases to come out this year.
To completely avoid spoilers, the basic premise is this. Tess Marshall (Georgina Campbell) has arrived in Detroit at her Airbnb. Upon entering the code in the lockbox to retrieve the key, she notices it’s missing and begins pounding on the door for the light to turn on by another traveler. Turns out, both Tess and Keith (Bill Skarsgård) have double booked this modern home in the heart of a bad neighborhood in Detroit. After an impromptu background creeper check by Tess, she decides to stay while Keith sleeps on the couch. After that, Cregger unleashes a corkscrew of twists and turns that is never seen coming. One after the other, a rollercoaster ride of relentlessly entertaining breath’s of fresh air to the genre full of stale franchises and underdeveloped ideas. Not Barbarian.
It’s in the opening moments that Tess and Keith meet that Cregger creates a relatable situation. Maybe not with the overbooking but with renting an Airbnb and having the frustration surrounding the contact number being called and the owner not answering or coming to aid like their ad claims. Checking the lock code between 3 to 6 times, memorizing it, and figuring out how to get the key out is a legitimate fear we all share. Panic begins to boil over creating an anxious environment ripe for a situation no one wants to be in.
None of the 107 minutes that plays out is predictable – it’s the biggest strength of the screenplay and the execution by Cregger as a horror film. Creeger appears to be on a mission to mess with the viewer’s head – when the story is expected to zig, Cregger zags and vice versa. Moments of tension and anticipated suspense come with an uncharacteristic result. As a newer fan to the larger genre of horror, I found every choice was made to benefit the story, never once did the change in pace or the quiet calming moments before a jump scare storm take me out of the adrenaline rush that begins after the first night spent.
After the first act, Cregger takes the film away from Detroit to introduce AJ (Justin Long) who has just been informed of some bad news that will be published. AJ is faced with a considerable amount of debt, which luckily for him, he owns properties in Detroit, one being the lovely Airbnb that both Tess and Keith are staying at. Looking to liquidate some of his assets, AJ heads home to Detroit only to face the nightmare Creeger has cooked up in his twisted mind.
Looking at the cast, the addition of Skarsgård in a horror film is no surprise to anyone, really. The It actor fits right into the role and environment like a glove and brings an enigmatic air as a strange man, soft spoken, unsure if he can be trusted not to be the “Barbarian”. Opposite him, Georgina steals Skarsgård’s thunder – proving to be an empowering force of nature with a sense of bravery when dealing with the situation at hand. However, once Justin Long arrives, his performance sparks an ignition the film didn’t know it needed. With the added complexities in character development by Creggers, Long’s performance compliments Campbell’s while keeping in line with the message Cregger was going for. Both characters are at their best when facing danger with opposing points of view.
Speaking of the message and meaning behind the title – Cregger establishes that within each character arc. Again, to not give away the meat and potatoes, what makes this film a must watch among horror aficionados is the density of what Tess, Keith and AJ go through and ultimately their choices in trying to survive. Cregger drops subtle hits through the dialogue of each character’s fundamental nature when placed in uncomfortable situations. Though implied that the main three characters have a barbarian within them, the villain of the story is the nail in the coffin. And Cregger subverts the expectation once again with who the ‘barbarian’ really is.
Among the technical aspects, the screenplay is the strongest complimented by Cregger’s direction. However, the unsung hero is Anna Drubich’s haunting and adrenaline inducing score. Adding to the anxiety, the music is well placed and utilized to the films advantage throwing off any sense of whats about to happen, in the story, and to the characters. When there is a jump scare, and there are several, each one is earned that compliments the music and timing of each piece. Made for mere pennies ($4 Million), Cregger squeezes the most out of the budget – a classic horror take with a modern horror tale. I’m just surprised Barbarian isn’t a Blumhouse production but a 20th Century Studios one. Along with Black Phone that graced cinema’s months ago, the genre is in great hands going into the future.
Screenplay By: Zach Cregger
Directed By: Zach Cregger
Music By: Anna Drubich
Cinematography: Zach Kuperstein
Starring: Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long, Richard Brake, Matthew Patrick Davis
Release Date: September 9, 2022
Running Time: 1 Hour 43 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
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