Just like revenge, Barbarian is best served cold. Physically and figuratively. there’s something about sitting in a theater to see a movie like this. Especially with the heatwaves all across the country. there’s something about letting your guard down in a dark, cool, (hopefully comfy) air-conditioned theater that contrasts the bright, broiling sun from outside. That is doubly true with Zack Creeger‘s Barbarian.
So far, the marketing for Barbarian is a no-spoilers type of campaign. Which serves the film well. Remember how I just compared it to being served cold? Well, enough about the physical, let’s talk about the figurative… namely, how being left in the cold and walking in with no foreknowledge beyond the basic premise is the best way to see it. And I know you want me to tell you why it’s titled Barbarian.
Well, I won’t I’ll leave it up to you to decide when you go see this surprisingly new but vaguely familiar view on horror. the premise is easy and something you’ll gleam from the trailer. Tess (Georgina Campbell) arrives at her booked Airbnb late at night only to find that Keith (Bill Skarsgård) is already staying there. Keith invites Tess inside so they can figure out what to do. Then we follow Tess and Keith as they try to navigate this awkward situation. Like a rom-com, they progressively learn more about one another until they can contact the host to figure out their situation.
Tess and Keith fumble through the awkwardness of their Airbnb mixup; we see the scene play out from two very different perspectives: in a gentlemanly gesture, Keith invites Tess in and even points out the similarities their chance encounter share with that of a classic meet-cute in a rom-com; for Tess, though, this ‘good guy’ is all red flags and cringe.
She is understandably wary of her would-be suitor and potential attacker before slowly warming to his considerateness, intelligence and charm. Turns out she is there for a job interview to become a researcher on a documentary about marginalized communities while he is there scouting neglected neighborhoods for his company to regenerate, but Barbarian widens its scope to introduce the house’s other occupants and owners over decades.
Cregger plays with every experience that is derived from the theater-going experience. You laugh, you jump, and you yell at the screen. He makes sure to implement a story transition that flips the script on everything it built, and once you think you know what’s gonna happen, you figure that you don’t know anything.
He continues to explore how perspective impacts the journey but implements a comedic element to Barbarian that runs through the remainder of the runtime. Every moment from then on is a love letter to the horror genre. If you want gore, you’ve got it. You want mystery; it is here in spades. How about a little misdirection, with sprinkles of tension all throughout?
Creeger takes the time to explore women as victims, villains, and victors within the horror genre and the ways they are both endangered and empowered by empathy. Sorry to say it, but Tess is a perfect victim, but she’s also street smart, and her ability to read others is her most effective power until, like most horror films, things go out of control.
If something doesn’t work here, it’s the film’s treatment of race and class. It’s never really explored though it is presented in one way or another by setting it in Detroit, and in a certain area of Detroit, it feels like it should have been addressed at the very least. To his credit, Cregger carefully avoids demonizing any specific group and keeps the action neatly unfolding around his central characters. After all, this is a horror film; it’s not required to have a bit of social commentary as a throughline.
This is the first horror film for Cregger, who is one of the founding members of the sketch comedy troupe “The Whitest Kids U’Know,” but it’s clear he is a fan of the genre, and in his masterful control of tone and terror, an exciting new horror filmmaker on the rise. There’s something to be said about all these sketch comedy members going into filmmaking. Cregger wraps this rip-roaring, utterly horrifying flick that’s inspired by classic horror filmmaking and tropes in so many different hints of thematic layers that you will ask, “is it already over?”.
A woman staying at an Airbnb discovers that the house she has rented is not what it seems.
Barbarian is in theaters now and stars Georgina Campbell as Tess Marshall, Bill Skarsgård as Keith Toshko, and Justin Long as AJ Gilbride.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you plan to see Barbarian in theaters? Let us know in the comments below. Also, be sure to follow The Illuminerdi on social media to be notified of more movie news and reviews like this in the future!