2022 has been an amazing year for the horror genre and Barbarian continues that trend.
Barbarian is a new horror film that may just be one of the better horror films of the year. It is inherently aware of the downfalls of telling a horror story and the tropes that come with the storytelling of horror and has moments where audiences will surely laugh. It is a tense film with characters that are put in situations that will make the audience feel claustrophobic, but the actors also are perfect in their roles which helps elevate the proceedings quite a bit. It is best to go into this movie knowing as little as possible, as the twists and turns that came at you have a way of making everything a bit more unnerving. Unlike most movie trailers these days, surprisingly the trailers and advertisement for Barbarian gives away nothing outside of the film’s initial setup which may lead to driving audiences away.
The plot follows Tess Marshall (Georgina Campbell) arrives at an Airbnb to stay for a few nights in a wrecked neighborhood at Detroit for a job interview. When she arrives, she finds Keith (Bill Skarsgard) also had the house booked for the week through a different app. Being a gentleman, Keith offers to share the house but Tess takes a bit to drop her guard. Eventually the two get to know each other, but Tess still feels uneasy about the house but cannot place her finger as to why. The woman she interviews with even suggests her to find a place to stay away from the neighborhood she is currently staying in. The longer the two stay in the Airbnb, the pair find something sinister is at play in the house.
To say more about the plot would give away too much and part of the movie-going experience with horror films is not knowing what is going to happen. While at times seeing characters make non-sensical decisions can be frustrating, director Zach Cregger’s ability to use the camera in ways to make the house into a character of sorts adds to the horror and makes it feel very claustrophobic. The musical score also does plenty to add to the film, albeit it definitely evokes 80’s horror vibes which is surely intentional as Barbarian at times feels like a film that would come out in that time. Even the poster for the film has that kind of look of a retro film.
Georgina Campbell as the main lead in Tess is solid enough, but of the three main stars she is the one the audience will connect with the most effectively acting as if the she is a part of the audience due to her reactions at times to some of the creepier moments. Tess is your typical modern horror-movie protagonist, doe-eyed but not naive nor unaware of her surroundings. Shes understandably guarded, but kind which explains why she stays as she wants to believe the best about others. Justin Long is cast almost perfectly as an actor and one that is full of himself and very self-interested. To no surprise, due to his talent, Long adds a good bit of comedic relief which is a welcome addition and in a big way, he pokes fun at the horror genre. Bill Skarsgard will make people feel uneasy as he does in just about everything he has been in up to this point. He plays the part of Keith well, especially the uneasy nature of two people being booked to the same Airbnb at the same time. The unsettling energy from him as he tries to assure Tess that shes safe will surely make audiences anxious. The true star of the film is again, Zach Cregger the director. The tone and overall setup throughout is the strongest point of the film and without a strong director or tone, a horror film will often fall apart.
Cregger uses the premises as a foundation for something much more ambitious and delivers a lean, surprising film with effective thrills but also wanting more. There is plenty more to explore if the studio decides to explore a sequel, although I don’t personally know if they will, Cregger cements himself as a solid horror director. Films like Barbarian in lesser hands would try to scare audiences with more frequent jump scares, but the long lingering shots of dark hallways and the dimly lit house add to the terror as it keeps the most disturbing scares in the head of the audience. The ultimate way to scare an audience remains in their own imagination, which Cregger manages well. The film does have its share of flaws, as the bounce between different time zones, and eras can be a bit jarring at first, it is effectively done for the narrative but messes a bit with the tension that inherently builds up with the main story.