Barbarian (2022) is quite a surprise, especially for a film that felt under-marketed to the public. Thankfully, word of mouth can still be an effective way to market, which piqued my interest in this smaller horror film.
Starring Georgina Campbell (Tess) as a researcher staying in Detroit for a job interview. She arrives at an Airbnb to find it’s been double booked with the strapping Bill Skarsgaard (Keith) already occupying the house.
Now, the story is set up in a way to project a sense of mystery around Keith’s character. However, in every sense, he checks out as a completely normal, unassuming person. All the familiar horror tropes come rushing to soften the typical blow of Keith’s turn towards evil, but the script plays off these expectations, not with them. And instead, we dive into an unexpected rabbit hole of despair that relates to the eroding Detroit suburbs as Tess uncovers pure evil.
The first half of the film is filled with misdirection until Tess stumbles into the basement. From there, the film opens up to unexplored territory and a 30-year mystery dating back to when this neighborhood was a thriving suburb, juxtaposed to the rotting wasteland it’s become.
Joe Murphy’s Editing
In fact, the film has an evocative, unsettling sequence about midway through, beautifully shot and edited, that shows the history of this Airbnb. Where the origin of these interconnected caves began and the cold, disparate man that forged them. Even with no violence or scares taking place during that sequence, it’s far and away the most horrifying scene of the film.
Furthermore, Joe Murphy’s intercutting between characters in the edit made for a much more lively exploration. It made the moments of tension genuinely scary and found interesting ways to show character without going too in-depth to take away from the fear. Scarcity isn’t usually the approach for modern horror, but Zach Cregger doesn’t overload his audience with terror but picks his spots flawlessly.
Zach Cregger a new name in horror
I came away wholly impressed with Cregger’s approach, but can’t say the same for the ending. The ending becomes an uninteresting chase sequence and escalates to more violence, which I found running in an opposite direction away from the elements I liked about the film.
As much as I enjoyed Justin Long’s (AJ) douchebag persona and Hollywood predator commentary and archetype, he becomes almost too cartoony with his final act. And yes, the way he’s incorporated into the screenplay was a brilliant addition. It explains why they were double booked in the first place. Why there’s a nicely kept Airbnb on the sketchy side of town. He becomes the unassuming party that falls into the hellish underworld of his own property. Yet, his character, despite staying consistent, is written less as a person and more as an archetype, leading to weird character decisions.
To put a cap on this review, Barbarian surprised me with its subtlety. It’s a fairly traditional story with a great twist, but it doesn’t veer off too far from the average horror monster and setup. Regardless, Cregger holds the tension in creative ways, not allowing it to become so involved in the mystery in the basement until it’s necessary. It’s an excellent entry into the genre and hope we get to see more from him in the future
Quick side note, Zach Cregger was one of the members of the sketch comedy show ‘Whitest Kids U know,’ which was an absolute favorite of mine growing up. White suburban degeneracy at its absolute finest. I love seeing him thrive in 2022, so happy he got this opportunity.