Barbarian Movie Review


Zach Cregger, both writer, and director, distinguishes himself as a true virtuoso of the suspense genre with his latest creation, Barbarian. The film opens with a scenario at the heart of relatability—a double-booked Airbnb, a modern traveler’s nightmare. Our protagonist, Tess, impeccably portrayed by Georgina Campbell, finds herself in a mesmerizing dance of uncertainty as she arrives amidst a torrential downpour at a quaint dwelling in an obscure corner of Detroit. In a serendipitous twist, she crosses paths with Keith, a somnolent lodger already ensconced. As the narrative unfolds, Keith’s persuasive demeanor coaxes Tess into a tentative truce, a pact forged in the face of their accommodation problem. His evidence of reservation becomes her lifeline, while an amicable compromise positions him on the couch, paving the way for a shared moment of intrigue—the uncorking of a forgotten bottle of wine, an offering from a prior guest.

Cregger, a member of the sketch group The Whitest Kids U’ Know and director of the frat comedy “Miss March,” demonstrates a nuanced understanding of the thematic elements at play in his work. He adeptly navigates the delicate balance between the protagonist’s intentional vulnerability and the resulting discomfort it evokes in the audience. Cregger’s skillful filmmaking techniques accentuate this dynamic, creating an intriguing tension throughout the narrative.

As the story unfolds, the audience is led to explore the basement, a pivotal setting that holds a sense of foreboding. While avoiding explicit spoilers, it becomes evident that venturing beyond a particular door, accessible by a mere strand of rope, is ill-advised. The storytelling masterfully employs various techniques to evoke a palpable sense of dread, occasionally driven by the narrative’s pacing.

The narrative unfolds with deliberate pacing that occasionally propels the plot forward assertively. However, the narrative’s strengths lie in its enigmatic mysteries and unexpected revelations, which are portrayed with a visceral intensity in “Barbarian.” This intensity remains undiminished even when the storyline embraces intentional absurdity moments, skillfully intertwining intrigue and fun elements.

Notably, the character portrayed by Bill Skarsgård, recognized for his role in “It,” assumes a significant role in the narrative, a testament to the pivotal role of casting in filmmaking. Skarsgård’s involvement adds disturbing depth to the film, akin to the labyrinthine and enigmatic passages within the house. His portrayal, once synonymous with the eerie Pennywise the Clown, is masterfully recalibrated; his demeanor, characterized by those hauntingly circular eyes and a commanding presence, is now replaced with an edgy and uncertain verbosity. As he strives to assure Tess’s sense of security within this uncanny milieu, his seemingly nonchalant facade is interwoven with anxious tangents that linger, prompting contemplation—does this persona belie a disarming charade, or is Skarsgård metamorphosing into yet another captivatingly unsettling figure? The cinematic discourse of “Barbarian” derives a palpable surge of anticipation from this inquiry, a suspenseful undercurrent that finds its zenith in one of the film’s most riveting sequences.

Subsequently, Justin Long enters the residence, embodying the character of Hollywood persona AJ. Introduced against the backdrop of a scenic coastal drive in a convertible, AJ’s world is swiftly disrupted by a phone call delivering grave allegations involving a fellow actress. Despite the severe accusations, AJ’s primary concern appears to be preserving his professional trajectory, aiming to distance himself from the controversy swiftly. Long’s masterful portrayal captures AJ’s morally reprehensible essence, accentuated by a well-placed, uproarious quip that underlines his entanglement in the Airbnb predicament. While the absence of consistent comedic relief is a missed opportunity, Long impeccably embodies the film’s linchpin, skillfully bringing to life the intricate web of choices woven by its characters—a pivotal foundation upon which the narrative thrives.

“Barbarian” embraces a familiar narrative without shying away from comparisons to “Don’t Breathe.” However, beneath this veneer lies the artistic ingenuity of Cregger’s creation, rendering it a captivating enigma. The film masterfully wields the city of Detroit, transformed into a character marked by tragedy, though this device may only partially dispel parallels to its predecessor. What sets the project apart is its audacious creative impulses.

At its core, the film demonstrates a keen sense of timing, deftly propelling us from one eerie juncture to another, often traversing time zones and decades. This deliberate pacing provides the audience respite while inviting them to scrutinize the seamless integration of each new life story. A striking ambition threads through these novel elements, weaving together vignettes of varying aspect ratios and expansive shots meticulously curated by cinematographer Zach Kuperstein. These visual choices contribute significantly to the film’s rich atmosphere.

The title, “Barbarian,” echoes persistently, akin to the haunting resonance of Anna Drubich’s score, comprised of wailing choirs and screeching strings. Its symbolism constructs a metaphorical hall of mirrors, a labyrinthine exploration that disconcertingly captivates the mind. In cinema, where the new often treads familiar ground, “Barbarian” emerges as an alluring testament to unbridled imagination and creative audacity.

The compelling potential of “Barbarian” to evolve into a remarkable horror script is momentarily eclipsed by certain elements in its initial two acts. Regrettably, these segments lack the meticulously crafted ingenuity that could elevate them to greatness. Within this context, the narrative encounters instances where the author, Cregger, resorts to conveniently contrived decisions. Notably, despite the storyline rendering ominous doorways redundant, there is an undue propensity for coercing characters into unwarranted actions such as opening said doors, thereby compromising the integrity of their plausible behaviors, engrossing us as viewers.

As the plot progresses, “Barbarian” appears to gravitate towards an unapologetically audacious direction, seemingly driven by a desire to embrace sheer eccentricity. Unfortunately, this trajectory shift has challenges, and the resultant devolution becomes unmistakably conspicuous.

However uncomplicated the trajectories of his characters might at times appear, Cregger adeptly navigates the realm of unsettling darkness that shrouds them, a fact glaringly evident when experiencing a dynamic film like this on the big screen. The expansive stretches of profound obscurity within “Barbarian” are far from visually engaging, inevitably prompting a palpable physiological response.