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A young woman discovers the Airbnb home she booked for her job interview is already occupied by a stranger. Against her better judgment, she decides to spend the night…but quickly discovers there’s more to be worried about just her unexpected house guest.
Georgina Campbell (Suspicion, Wildcat), Justin Long (Drag me to Hell, Dodgeball) and Bill Skarsgard (It, Eternals) star in a film both written and directed by Zach Cregger (Wrecked).
Barbarian begins with a typical horror trajectory, playing on the well worn trope of the lone woman in a questionable and potentially threatening situation. Without giving too much away, the film continually looks to subvert expectations, taking us on a gripping journey through expected beats before veering wildly away from convention into surprising caveats.
Made for going in blind, the initial responses from audiences were almost unanimously positive. Cregger provides sharp writing that’s not without prescience and social commentary, but it’s not hammered over your head like some larger studio films. There’s plenty of wry humour, but it never gets too winky for its own good.
Whilst Barbarian has clever twists from genre convention, it still delivers all the scares, tension and holy crap moments horror fans will lap up. It’s impeccably shot with a very retro aesthetic, evoking 70s and 80s horror in particular, and the settings within the film are grimly atmospheric.
Finally, the ominously droning score by Anna Drubich sneaks into proceedings when the tension builds — and it’s very effective.
The Key Characters
As the woman who books the Airbnb, Tess has to contend with exhaustion, paranoia and the inherent societal fear driven into young women about the potential dangers of being alone with strange men. She begins to do things against her better judgment, and we can see that conflict written across her face. She’s played by Georgina Campbell, a fine British export who has seen her career rise sharply of late, and will surely be catapulted further after this.
Keith is the awkwardly affable man who has double booked with Tess. Is it an act of subterfuge? Is it genuine? He’s pitch perfect as we wait for a flip we deem is inevitable. He’s played by Bill Skarsgard, we’re talking the guy who played Pennywise the clown here, a member of the Skarsgard family who were almost preordained to play oddballs or antagonists. Creggar probably cast him because of this, as it naturally puts the audience immediately into a tense state from the moment he appears.
AJ is an actor who’s about to see his career torpedoed with rape allegations hitting the press. Just whether he fully acknowledges his prior behaviour and whether he wants to better his attitude is a major part of his arc, and again, I won’t spoil where this takes him. He connects to the main story in an interesting, if slightly contrived way. Justin Long’s portrayal of an arrogant fool is great; he’s comical but doesn’t overplay it as the morality of his character is constantly brought into question. Just whether he fully acknowledges his prior behaviour and whether he wants to better his attitude is a major part of his arc, and again, I won’t spoil where this takes him. But Vanity Fair has touted long as an Oscar contender for this role.
What’s it really about:
The film touches upon a few relevant topics through an interesting timeline within it. We get classism, gentrification, and the objectification of women, and Creggar also turns his microscope on the jock mentality and the notion that a woman’s ingrained response to being alone with a man should be fear. With AJ’s arc, it certainly speaks about the ‘Me too’ era as well.
One of a selection of great horror movies out this year, fans who want to be surprised with a flip on their expectations will enjoy this. Barbarian delivers on the scares and impactful moments of gore, but it manages to do so in imaginative ways. Some may find the very clear three acts and the shifts within a little too jarring, but only if they prefer a more conventional narrative.
An open mind and a blank slate. Try not to watch any trailers or spoiler videos. Switch off the lights, watch it in the dark with someone who loves horror cinema.
Barbarian has effective jump moments and as is a requisite for this genre, plenty of blood. It deals with some dark themes some might find disturbing.
Where to find it: Disney+