Barbarian (2022) Is Rousing, Crowd-Pleasing Horror Done Right
First Non-Festival Release: September 8, 2022 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Zach Cregger
Writer: Zach Cregger
Runtime: 102 Minutes
Starring: Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Tess (Georgina Campbell) drives all night to Detroit for a job interview the following morning. Just when she makes it to her Airbnb, she finds that the home is already occupied by Keith (Bill Skarsgård). Initially, Tess doesn’t trust Keith, given that mistakes like this don’t happen often, but after searching for last minute hotel arrangements and refusing to wait outside in the rough neighborhood while it is pouring rain, Keith offers to sleep on the couch and give Tess the bedroom with a locked door. An act of kindness turns into horror when Tess discovers the true terror lurking within the home.
The personification of a balls-to-the-wall midnight movie, Barbarian is the crowd-pleasing horror film you must see in theaters.
Before reading any further: stop. Go watch Barbarian now and thank the reviewer later for revealing as little as possible. If curiosity still endures know that no spoilers lie ahead.
Barbarian starts unsettling enough with Tess showing strategic vulnerability to Keith, and Keith, in turn, demonstrating all the qualities of a “good guy.” This sets the stage for an all too familiar horror film before something special happens at the end of the first act, which acts as the first subversion before evolving into something far more surprising. This deviation in narrative structure not only allows the tension to grow exponentially but shed more light on how the horror within the house has continued to cultivate for years largely unnoticed by those in power.
Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long all do great work carrying the terrifying, tender, and humorous beats of the tonally wild film. Campbell leads with tenacity. Her portrayal of Tess is nuanced in her fears, strength, and critical thinking. She doesn’t make all the right decisions, often betrayed by her strong moral compass, but she makes the audience believe they are the right ones nonetheless. She’s endearing nonetheless due to her caring nature, and Campbell leans into that energy hard whenever she needs to keep the audience on her side.
Skarsgård and Long both lean into the comedy behind their respective characters. It’s clear this is an unexpected venture for both Keith and AJ, but their responses are drastically different. Each portrays a different type of man faced with a terrifying ordeal, however, the character of their characters couldn’t be more different, which makes for some beautifully thought-provoking character work in terms of social commentary on masculinity and the ways it shapes others. This is potentiated by additional revelations but to say more would lead into too heavy of spoilers for the nature of this review.
Barbarian works because of its rousing action sequences and striking imagery, but it would be for nothing without its strong technical components. Great editing takes Barbarian from merely good to great. Key transitions land only because of the perfect timing, comedic or otherwise, implemented in this process. Cregger uses this to his advantage to sell the constant tonal shifts of Barbarian. Strong cinematography and direction help ramp up the tension to unbearable levels. Simple twists and turns of the camera put the audience in the character’s shoes without feeling too forced. It’s an excellent way to navigate the underground setting without feeling gimmicky.
Horror films like Barbarian seldom come around often, much less on the big screen. Between its fresh interpretation of a classic horror setup and its talented cast, Barbarian creeps into viewer’s peripheries only to jump out and surprise them when they least expect it. Cregger proves to be adept at balancing humor and horror while focusing on subverting the tropes that audiences have come to expect from their genre viewing. It even sneaks in some thought-provoking social commentary in as well, adding even further depth to the picture. By emphasizing strong characterization, sharp editing, and a deep sense of misdirection, Barbarian effectively outshines its horror peers of the year. My advice. Go in as blind as possible to enjoy one of the most exciting and confounding theater experiences of the year.
Overall Score? 8.5/10