Choosing what to watch is never easy. Far too often do people sit on their couches, late at night, scrolling endlessly through extensive catalogs of content, hoping to find something that might catch their eye. What they rarely consider, however, is the riskiest option available to them – just sort of clicking on something and hoping it’s good. Time is a precious commodity, and most of society would rather not waste it on a sub-par movie. Of course, this extends two-fold to the moviegoing experience. A theatrical flop means the viewer has wasted their time and their money, and not a soul goes home happy after losing out on both. Sometimes, though, the risk is totally worth it. Every once in a while, a person goes to the theater on a whim and discovers something unexpected. Something absolutely delightful. Get those tickets ready, because this year, Barbarian is that unexpected delight.
Let it first be said that Barbarian is the type of film best experienced with little-to-no knowledge of the plot heading into it. It’s designed to take people by surprise, and it does so gloriously. As such, it’s highly recommended that anyone who plans on going to see it avoids spoilers and spoiler-filled reviews at all costs. All anyone needs to know before they seat themselves in the theater can be found in the trailers, which do an excellent job of advertising the film without giving much away. Written and directed by Zach Cregger, the movie stars Georgina Campbell as Tess, a woman who arrives at her Airbnb to find it’s already occupied by someone else. Scream king Bill Skarsgård co-stars as the mysterious stranger who opens the door and invites Tess inside – where she quickly discovers there’s a lot more going on than just a reservation mix-up.
Cregger‘s background in comedy – he was a founding member of the famous The Whitest Kids U’Know sketch troupe – works wonders in horror as the opposite side of the same coin. The script always knows when to hold back and when to go full speed ahead, expertly setting up scares and plot twists in much the same way a stand-up might lay the path for their closing remarks. Barbarian doesn’t feel as long as its runtime either, flying by with excellent pacing that makes it easy to become engrossed in what’s on the screen. If the length of the film wasn’t already so perfect, one might even find themselves wishing there was more by the time the credits start rolling. Thankfully, however, the movie knows exactly where to stop. An excellent example of the celebrated tight 90.
Thematically, Barbarian is also a bit of a shock. The basic premise itself, as stated above, suggests the plot will tackle some feminist topics, but the actual extent to which the movie commits to this is astounding. Cregger himself has mentioned on multiple occasions that the original idea behind the project came from reading a book about situational red flags women deal with on a daily basis. If one pays attention, they’ll notice this concept is the backbone of the entire film. The subtlety involved with seeding these moments around the story varies depending on the scenario, but it’s always present, no matter how insane the events on screen become. In this way, Barbarian competes with the recent trend of horror projects intent on delivering valuable messages on top of freaky frights, though it maintains more of a classic slasher feel than it does the artsy vibe of Jordan Peele‘s now-iconic work.
Campbell solidifies herself as a leading performer with this movie, and hopefully, will be treated as such following its release. She stands tall alongside Skarsgård and fellow cast member Justin Long, who himself brings something unique to the big picture. Long plays a bit out-of-type, in a crucial role, but also manages to provide some comedic relief in an otherwise tense film. With him, Cregger is able to flex a bit of his comedy muscle, without compromising the intensity that is so important to making Barbarian work. In fact, it’s the intensity of Barbarian that will keep butts on the edge of their seats as the story progresses and becomes increasingly enthralling.
Not much more can be said without starting to give away too much, but the baseline remains the same – Barbarian is a near-perfect horror film. There is little it can’t do, between screams and laughter, and is admirably unafraid to be as strange as it wants while keeping with its very real messages. Admittedly, the marketing for the movie hasn’t conjured much hype, likely due to its inability to show everything that goes on in the depths beneath the Airbnb. So, let this be the rallying cry. Go see Barbarian, and afterward, tell everyone else to head towards the theater as well. It may be flying under the radar right now, but with time, this one might just become a modern horror classic.