"Barbarian" stars Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long, Matthew Patrick Davis, Richard Brake, and Kurt Braunohler. Released on September 9, 2022, the film has a young woman discovering something horrendous while staying at a rental home.
The film was written and directed by Zach Cregger, who's a member of the comedy troupe, The Whitest Kids U' Know, and is known for co-directing "Miss March" with Trevor Moore. When you rent an Airbnb and there's someone already renting the place, it's probably best to search for a different house to book. You never know who or what that person is until their true colors are shown. They could be a pervert or even a gangster. But, from the looks of it, they could also be something far worse than we could imagine. Halloween is more than a month away, but that doesn't mean it's too early to get our scares on immediately. Luckily for us, Hollywood has just the movie to kick off our frightful fall season, and it's by a guy who specializes in comedy. If you thought Jordan Peele's transition from comedy to horror was a surprising change of pace, then you haven't seen Zach Cregger's shift in genres. This film captured my curiosity mainly for its cast and the marketing that cleverly hides its shocking secrets for the final cut. With it being rated R, those secrets must have been that appalling, probably more so than the "Saw" movies. But, of course, it'll have to have an actual plot to make it more than just a mindless gore-fest. With that said, let's head into the house of horrors and see if it can start this year's spooky season on the right foot.
The story follows Tess Marshall (Campbell), a young woman arriving in Detroit for an important job interview. She books a rental home in a remote neighborhood to stay at overnight, only to realize that it's already occupied by a man named Keith Toshko (Skarsgård), who rented it through a different app. With nowhere else to stay, Tess decides to spend the night in the house with Keith. Later that night, Tess overhears something moving around in the house. She eventually investigates and discovers a secret basement. What lies ahead is something far more dangerous and grim than she could ever imagine.
You're probably wondering what horrific secret I'm talking about. Well, I would tell you, but I prefer not to. It's one of the movies that advise people to go in blind to get the whole experience. They can't look up the synopsis online, and they can't listen to others who've seen it. They have to watch it with an open mind without knowing anything. There are plenty of moments in its narrative that you think you know what would happen, but then the film says otherwise, resulting in some pretty exciting stuff. It's stuff like this that makes the experience of watching movies so special, especially for the horror genre. It's like they always say: Not knowing much is part of the fun. But, of course, the movie has to have a good enough story to make the experience worthwhile, which it did. While it isn't as inhumanely shocking as I thought it would be content-wise, "Barbarian" is another horrific and fun treat that's more creepy than cringe-worthy.
The most challenging thing about movies like this is explaining the story without ruining its surprises. It can be easy to talk about a film without realizing you're about to spill the beans on a major plot twist or reveal. So, the best thing I can say about its plot is that it focuses on two characters being trapped in a similar scenario. One of them is Tess, who shares an Airbnb with Keith and discovers a disturbing sight. Afterwards, the movie surprisingly shifts its attention to AJ Gilbride (Long), a sitcom actor accused of raping his co-star and forced to sell his assets to pay for his legal costs, including the house Tess and Keith are staying at. These two people eventually collide with one another and attempt to escape the nightmare alive.
Both of these stories are simple with a slight examination of the movie's disgusting issue, but they're also enjoyable for the film's cast and Cregger's approach to its narrative. Of course, the movie offers the usual genre tropes we've seen, and some of the characters' actions are a tad problematic. However, they're not used as lazy attempts to tell a story. Instead, the tropes are used to trick first-time audiences with something they're not prepared for, leading to some effective surprises that maintain the film's unpredictability and the audience's interest. Unfortunately, there are also a couple of scenes that didn't make much sense to me, and the third act lost a bit of the movie's steam. But they did little to ruin my enjoyment in seeing people being horrified by…whatever it is.
As mentioned before, the movie's cast is part of the reason for the film being highly watchable, especially for people that are into horror. Georgina Campbell was highly entertaining regarding her performance as Tess. She did a great job manifesting a character who makes more reasonable choices than dumb ones. Bill Skarsgård was also solid in his role of Keith, and Justin Long makes a worthy comeback, thanks to his performance as AJ. It's been a while since I've seen Long in anything, with the last film I've seen him in was 2019's "Jay and Silent Bob Reboot". So it makes me happy to see him back in a modern movie like this.
But the biggest surprise I've seen in "Barbarian" is Zach Cregger. The movie was his first effort writing and directing something by himself. Seeing that he's a comedian, I was curious to see how Cregger would handle something as grotesque as this. To my surprise, I thought he didn't do too bad. Regarding his style, Cregger seemed to have taken some inspiration from other horror filmmakers, including Sam Raimi, for the cinematography and tension-filled sequences. It's an interesting choice that paid off well, with the director's focus constantly set on making the film frighteningly dark and subtly stylish. I also thought Cregger did a solid job mixing the horror aesthetics with the movie's comedy. The latter is something that'll make or break a horror movie depending on the execution and timing, but "Barbarian" has a couple of humorous scenes that surprisingly fit with its intended tone. If this movie does well at the box office, we could see more of Cregger as a filmmaker in the future.
Overall, "Barbarian" is a spooky and constantly entertaining ride that benefits from its surprising twists and filmmaking style. The storyline may have proven to be more creepy than highly shocking regarding its sick and twisted concept, and some of its narrative choices are far from perfect. However, those minor issues are quickly overshadowed by the director's desire to make an effectively fun and messed-up horror experience for the genre's fans. From its talented cast to Cregger's refreshing direction for its horror formula, the movie is another satisfying surprise the genre desperately needed and one that showcases some potential in Zach Cregger as a filmmaker. If you're in the mood for a terrifying treat, feel free to check this movie out…if you dare.