What a joy it is to be surprised by a film. When you’re in my line of work, that doesn’t happen too often. Most of the time, you know too much, in fact. So, when circumstances dictated that I was headed to a screening of Barbarian without really any knowledge of what it was about, the possibilities were endless. Thrillingly, this movie would upend any expectations, so already going in cold provided a ridiculously good time. Funny, novel, scary, and incredibly tense, this has just about everything a genre fan could ask for. The fact that it’s deeply original as well? Well, that’s just some bloody icing on the cake.
Barbarian is a lot of fun because it’s aware of how to subvert your expectations. It’s quite impossible to guess where this one is ever going, so giving yourself over to the story is a joy. It’s like a roller coaster, zooming through its genre conventions in search of something new. For my money, this is one of the more purely enjoyable experiences I’ve had with a horror/thriller in some time.
Tess Marshall (Georgina Campbell) has come to Detroit for a job interview with a documentary filmmaker. Arriving to her Airbnb-type rental late at night, she can’t get in, only to find that the home has been double booked. Also staying there is Keith (Bill Skarsgård). He seems friendly enough, if a little awkward. Perhaps against her better judgment, she decides to stay, at least for the night, until everything can get sorted out in the morning. They even bond a bit, though at some point in the night, someone has opened her bedroom door.
The next day, Keith is gone, leaving a note that he’d be back later. After her interview, Tess explores the house a bit, she discovers hidden secrets in the basement. What’s done there? I wouldn’t dream of saying? How does this factor in with sitcom actor AJ (Justin Long) and his involvement? That I’ll also leave for you to discover. Just know that it’s a film eager to consistently surprise you.
Largely a three hander, though not in the way you might think, the trio of main cast members are a lot of fun. Georgina Campbell has the most screen time and she plays such a knowing horror heroine that it’s a pleasure to watch her navigate the situation. On the flip side, when Justin Long comes into play, his completely different vibe really helps make him pop. This is a 180 degree turn from the types of roles Long usually gets. Bill Skarsgård also does a strong job of keeping you on your toes about how harmless he really is. Supporting players include Richard Brake, Matthew Patrick Davis, and a few others.
Writer/director Zach Cregger loves turning the screws here. With some old school practical gore, this iis a throwback mix of horror and thriller. Cregger’s direction is always seeking to keep you on your toes, while his script is far more clever than most of this ilk. He not only makes Barbarian one of the best fright flicks of the year, but establishes Cregger as a filmmaker to watch out for. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Barbarian may well scare the pants off of you. It certainly has the capacity to shock, in the most fun ways possible. The mastery of genre and the story at hand is really quite compelling. See this with a crowd and go in as cold as you can, plot wise. Take it from me, you’ll be glad that you did!