Barbarian Is Your New Bonkers Horror Favorite of 2022: Review

·4 min read

The post Barbarian Is Your New Bonkers Horror Favorite of 2022: Review appeared first on Consequence.

The Pitch: On a dark and stormy night in Detroit, Tess (Georgina Campbell) shows up at her AirBnB only to find someone already staying there: sensitive, looming, but slightly disarming Keith (Bill Skarsgård). Turns out they’ve both rented the place on the same night, and there’s nowhere else to stay, so Tess decides to take Keith up on his offer to crash together. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?

Eat Your Heart Out, Gabriel: How do you write a review of a film that’s genuinely, truly, deeply best enjoyed blind? That’s the challenge ahead for us, dear reader, but let’s give it a shot.

The solo feature directorial debut of Zach Cregger (one of the founding members of The Whitest Kids U’Know), Barbarian shares a surprising amount of DNA with Psycho, especially in its first forty minutes or so. In this initial act, it’s a film chiefly concerned with a suspicious double-booking, the kind of thing that would result in a meet-cute if this were a different kind of movie.

Tara doesn’t trust Keith, despite his repeated entreaties and performance of nice-guy chivalry: He insists she comes in out of the rain, where “there’s lights and a lock on the door” to keep her from the rest of the run-down Detroit neighborhood that surrounds their surprisingly well-kept domicile. He even nervously waits to open up a bottle of wine until after she’s returned, just to make sure she knows he didn’t drug it.

For most of this first act, Cregger plays this dynamic like the other shoe might drop on Keith’s intentions any minute now. After all, we’ve seen this rodeo before, both as horror fans and as people fully aware of the realities of sexual assault. Hell, how would you feel sharing an AirBnB with Pennywise?

Barbarian Review Bill Skarsgard
Barbarian Review Bill Skarsgard

Barbarian (20th Century Studios)

Campbell makes a compelling Final Girl lead, smart when she needs to be and reliably dumb when the script calls for it. Skarsgård, for his part, does a killer job subverting his usual creepiness, while letting just enough of it back in to keep everyone on edge. Zach Kuperstein’s cinematography leads us down these paths, too, every precise pan around a dark corner or rack focus a gleeful tease of what’s to come. Add to that Anna Drubich’s chittering, caterwauling score, and Barbarian hums with atmosphere even before we enter the house.

Trust, dear reader, that Barbarian zigs where you expect it to zag, as this tension gives way to an opened basement door, a mysterious hidden door behind that basement, and tunnels that go deeper and deeper and deeper to reveal terrors unknown. And that’s, I remind you, just in the first half hour.

Barbarian Review Bill Skarsgard
Barbarian Review Bill Skarsgard

Barbarian (20th Century Studios)

Mommy Issues: The proceedings of the hour to follow are too deliciously unexpected to describe in detail. Suffice to say that the film’s scope widens, encompassing everything from a self-absorbed actor (Justin Long) reeling from a recent rape allegation by a co-star to an old man (Mandy‘s Richard Brake) with a mysterious connection to the house they’re staying in. And with each layer of the story Cregger peels back, a new host of horror influences, from The Descent to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, creeps in.

At first glance, Barbarian‘s endless stack of twists-upon-twists feels a bit like a house of cards — especially as their sheer weight starts to collapse in on itself in its final act. But really, it feels more like a Russian nesting doll: open up one layer, and another takes its place.

On the outside, it’s a date-gone-wrong thriller about what happens when you trust strange men. But look deeper, and you’ll see the struggle of witless men to keep up in a post-#MeToo world, the decay of the American Dream in the Reagan years (Detroit is an adroit setting for a number of reasons), the elemental pull of mother and child. These competing themes don’t always play well together, but you’re often too wrapped up in the giddy, edge-of-your-seat unpredictability to care.

Barbarian Review Bill Skarsgard
Barbarian Review Bill Skarsgard

Barbarian (20th Century Studios)

The Verdict: Undoubtedly, Barbarian will raise comparisons to last year’s Malignant, a similarly wild-as-hell horror flick that zigs and zags down all manner of crazy roads. And to be sure, there’s a similarly perverse glee to be found here, as Cregger toys with your expectations before jumping you to another element of his insane narrative.

All these twists and reorientations leave the thing feeling a bit disjointed by the end, and it certainly does a number on the pacing after a while. But the fundamentals are there — a killer adversary, a suitably gnarly backstory, and a devilish desire to entertain. And for a packed horror crowd looking for the next thing to hoot and holler at, Barbarian might just do the trick.

Where’s It Playing? Barbarian leads you down a dark, slimy corridor, only to bonk you over the head and take you someplace entirely new, in theaters on September 9th.

Trailer:

Barbarian Is Your New Bonkers Horror Favorite of 2022: Review
Clint Worthington

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