If you were to arrive late at night at an AirBnB only to discover that a man was already there renting the same house, you probably wouldn’t do what the lead protagonist in Barbarian does: agree to go inside. But if you were to turn around, get in your car, and drive off, you wouldn’t be the subject of a horror movie, and what’s the fun in that?
Indeed, Tess (Georgina Campbell) does walk through that door, and then another, and then another, and while some of her decisions may not have been the wisest, writer/director Zach Cregger deftly pulls us into his house of horrors. Perfectly and patiently paced, Barbarian is a wickedly good time that is more than willing to turn on a dime and deliver the unexpected.
Barbarian indeed keeps you guessing as to what will happen next or where the story is headed, even if in hindsight I’d argue its underlying premise is more straightforward than it could have been. Cregger’s storytelling approach is lean and mean; he knows when to hold back and when to unleash fury.
While Barbarian may not be the scariest movie ever made, Cregger establishes an increasing sense of terror as it progresses. His use of silence, and then darkness, and then silence and darkness, works wonders. But he also excels at being willing to go just a little bonkers; while his decision to make a major shift halfway through the film is rather disruptive, the payoff is well worth it–it’s just not something most filmmakers would do.
The movie benefits significantly from its cast, who are able to transform little moments into big moments for maximum impact and help convince the audience that what you’re watching on screen does actually, sort of, maybe make sense. Campbell is awesome in the lead role,and the movie suffers some when Cregger temporarily lets the camera drift away from her. Bill Skarsgaard is equally terrific, as is Justin Long.
What I would have liked to see is even more craziness than what Cregger delivers in the third act. As entertaining as it is, the home stretch isn’t quite as good as the early parts, the final climax didn’t fully do it for me. The villain becomes less scary as you learn more about her; Cregger should have dove deeper into the depths of hell rather than inching in the other direction.
Though not perfect, Barbarian is a blast on many levels. Suspenseful, occasionally grotesque, and, most importantly, fun, this is a horror movie that deserves to be seen with an audience–you know, the kind of audience that will yell at the characters on screen.
After all, if you’re stupid enough to go through that first door, it’s likely you’re going to go through the next one, too.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.