I rarely will start off a review by telling readers to watch the movie first, but in the instance of "Barbarian," I would hate to even spoil a morsel of the fun. So for real, if you haven't yet seen it, it's OK. You don't have to read on if you don't want to. Go see the movie and then come back here.
This isn't a spoiler-heavy review by any means, but "Barbarian" is best experienced by not knowing where the hell it's going. The headline is that I enjoyed it, despite it all falling apart by the end. It's a fantastic date movie or one to experience with friends, and it excels as a film that plays off of audience expectations...and trust me, no one will see where this one twists and turns to.
The title of the film makes sense, but only after thinking heavily about it after watching the movie. The title itself is subversive, matching the entirety of the rest of the movie.
If you must know, "Barbarian" is not in the realm of "torture porn" horror like "Saw" or "Hostel" nor is it as brutally scary as say, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." It isn't high-brow horror as "Hereditary" nor is it as evil as "Hellraiser" or "Poltergeist." In many ways, "Barbarian" is its own thing. Yes, it's scary, and even gory at times. But it's also laugh-out-loud funny. It may be more of a spiritual cousin to films like "Cabin in the Woods" or "Scream" more than to "harder" films of the horror genre.
It puts time in, playing on our expectations. Tess (Georgina Campbell) arrives at night in the pouring rain to a house in a terrible part of Detroit. She has rented out the house using some sort of AirBnB app, but to her surprise the house is already occupied by a man, Keith (Bill Skarsgard). He seems nice, and this double-booking situation seems like some sort of a mistake by the rental company, but the perfect casting of Skarsgard (he played the evil clown from "It" after all) makes the audience more than leery of this new person introduced into Tess's life.
And that, my friends, is all that I'm willing to spill as to plot points. There's a basement, a secret tunnel and a few characters that enter into the story. There's a flashback or two, and while the source of the terror is eventually shown, it is hardly explained. Writer/Director Zach Cregger leaves all the explanations for folks to discuss on their way out of the theater, in their cars, and all the way home.
If anything, "Barbarian" doesn't have a lot of good things to say about Detroit. I'm not sure if there is some heavy symbolism or metaphoric meaning behind the movie being set in my home state of Michigan, but the city I love didn't seem to come out smelling like roses. If anything, "Barbarian" speaks to those left behind, and if there is any city that knows what that feels like, it's Detroit.
This is the sort of film that has audiences screaming things like, "Aw hell no!" and "Don't go in there!" or "You've got to be kidding me!" For much of "Barbarian," the jump-scares work, and there are more than a few scenes that will generate nervous laughter, especially after the character of AJ (Justin Long) appears.
I must admit I was a bit disappointed by how the film wrapped up: The payoff was not nearly as fun as the journey towards it. Many characters make questionable decisions, some threads are left unattended, and much of this could have been avoided altogether if the characters weren't all collectively imbecilic.
But there's enough fun to be had in "Barbarian" that it's tough not to recommend. Go see it in theaters, with friends...if anything, the movie is a cautionary tale about the dangers of staying at home for way too long.
Genre: Horror, Thriller.
Run Time: 1 hour 42 minutes.
Starring: Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgard, Justin Long, Richard Brake.
Written and Directed by Zach Cregger ("The Civil War on Drugs," "Miss March").
"Barbarian" is in theaters on Friday, September 9th, 2022.
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