Written by: Zach Cregger
Starring: Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long
Staying at hotels provides their own distinct sets of fears as you never know what happened to the individuals who slept on that very bed as you. However, staying in an Airbnb exponentially heightens this fear as you have no idea who also has a key to this house or what lingers in the crevices. Barbarian uses this fear and the element of surprise to an incredible degree to craft an astounding horror film that will make you shout for others to experience it as well.
In town for an interview, Tess (Georgina Campbell) arrives at her Airbnb in the middle of the night to see there was another person already staying there named Keith (Bill Skarsgård). After both confirming their correct reservations they decide to stay in the house in separate rooms with no other lodging options available.
Writing a review for Barbarian feels like an injustice to the movie because everyone who seeks out this film should experience it with no idea of what transpires in the film. Its biggest asset comes from the reveals it has in store for the audience and even hinting at what may come for these characters will not necessarily ruin the experience but temper the full greatness this film has to offer. All this to say, if you have not seen the film, please leave this review and go watch it before reading anything else about it, please.
One of the great ways this feature works in its terror comes from playing with our preconceived notions of how a horror film operates and stereotypes of different character tropes. Tess represents the final girl, who typically are characters who make incredibly dumb decisions but somehow survive by the end. Keith, as a character, gives the inkling of a nice guy who is a little too nice for one to believe they have nothing up their sleeve. This sets up how we think the story will go versus how it actually all transpires. We come in with our preconceived notions and the film slaps us in the face for thinking we had any idea of what is going on. Nothing occurs as expected, which makes every reveal so engaging and the experience much more horrifying as a result.
Part of these preconceived notions comes from the casting and who these individuals have portrayed in the past. Georgina Campbell is a new-to-me actor, which allows for a blank slate on our expectations of her but when you throw in Bill Skarsgård, who has famously portrayed Pennywise the Clown in his last foray into horror, then it begins to raise some eyebrows. Surely the man who portrayed a murderous clown acting as this harmless nice guy cannot be everything that it seems. Or is he just a nice guy?
Along with the casting, this feature utilizes societal expectations of who can be believed when drastic situations present themselves. What happens if a woman claims she is under attack, will the police believe her based on the evidence she presents? Would they believe a man instead based on what they see? These all play a factor in the ultimate fate of these characters, which adds some richness and reality to the story, especially when it begins to go off the rails with the narrative and the crazy things that occur.
When the reveals of this film transgress, it completely flips the switch on what we thought was possible in this story and continues to add more horrifying elements in such a satisfying way. Unpredictability to the extreme where things get funny and sad continually throughout. The one cut the film makes halfway through is jaw-dropping in its contrast and how it sets up the second half of the film. Simply breathtaking in moments and just when you think it’s done upending how you think the film will go, it does it again.
Everything in this feature comes from the mind of Zach Cregger, who with this being his feature film debut heavily impresses with how confident he is with the camera. Being the writer of this film shows he constructed this gnarly story from top to bottom and it’s hard not to be completely impressed by what he manages to craft here. The way the film envelops displays a tight screenplay with several nuggets laid out throughout the film to demonstrate what will happen later. However, his best work comes from how he sets the tone of the film allowing for the awkward moments to simmer and then the horrifying ones to jolt out at you. Top-notch work and definitely someone to keep an eye on as he continues on his filmmaking journey.
Wholly entertaining, terrifying in moments, and an overall singular experience, Barbarian feels like one of those films that drop out of nowhere and have an immense impact. It has a level of self-awareness of the current world and how it plays into the actions of these characters, especially when it comes to the dire moments in the second half. It goes in places you would not expect and it makes for something everyone should watch if they want a scare and another reminder not to do Airbnbs.