While in Detroit for a job interview, Tess Marshall finds the small home she has rented is already occupied. The stranger, a young man named Keith, invites Tess to stay until they can get the situation figured out. It’s dark, storming and, thanks to a medical conference in the city, every hotel is booked up. Oh, and the rest of the neighborhood? It’s abandoned and in disarray. So against her better judgment, Tess agrees to spend the night, and she soon discovers the house holds secrets she may not be able to escape.
It’s difficult to write a proper review for Barbarian without spoiling the entire movie, but I will do my best! Let’s just say you may think what you’re getting yourself into with this movie, but you really don’t. It’s truly a one of a kind movie, one that made me cringe, laugh and hide my eyes all while asking myself… what the f*ck….!? But in the best way possible, I promise you.
I have to appreciate any filmmaker who will push boundaries, especially in horror. It’s a genre that gives you such a wide berth of creativity and so often it feels like the stories being told are holding back from just letting go and reigning chaos upon its audience. That’s not to say Barbarian is breaking new ground in the genre, but it’s certainly bringing something fresh and entertaining to it.
Barbarian’s beginning is an intriguing slow burn as Tess (Georgina Campbell) and Keith (Bill Skarsgard) get to know one another. They have chemistry and there are a few moments where you may raise your brows and wonder if this might actually be a romance instead of a horror film. But there are enough red flags to make you wonder if the horror within the house is Keith himself, or something else. The casting of Skarsgard as Keith is a stroke of genius, considering most audiences know him as Pennywise (IT). And Skarsgard brilliantly toes the line between sincere and creepy, so much so that you genuinely do not know if he’s someone to be feared, or another potential victim.
In Tess, Campbell creates a heroine that we truly root for. Even when we’re screaming at her to get out of the house and drive away, we also admire her strength and conviction to do the right thing. I’m not sure I can say the same for Justin Long’s AJ, a sleazy actor recently accused of sexual assault and in town to sell his rental home for quick cash. His character may be the most interesting of the main three, but that’s because, like the film itself, you truly do not know what direction AJ will go when his life is on the line. He’s toxic as hell, but is he redeemable?
And then there’s the house itself – 476 Barbary Street. It’s small, quaint, and cozy, a stark contrast to the rest of the dilapidated neighborhood. Of course, beneath the surface, it’s dark and claustrophobic, giving the feeling of being buried alive with no way out. It certainly adds to the tension of the situation, especially when the only light around is from a cell phone or a shoddy flashlight – they never work properly in horror films, do they? – and there’s absolutely something sinister lurking in the dark corners.
It took me a couple of days to figure out just how I felt about Barbarian after walking out of the theater, but ultimately I took that as a sign that it’s a memorable movie that deserves to be seen. With plenty of scares and horror cliches done right, writer and director Zach Cregger has created a wild, weird ride of a horror film that truly keeps you guessing until the end.