MOVIE REVIEW – A young woman experiences nightmarish events when she rents an Airbnb room in Zach Cregger’s horror film The Barbarian.
If you were a young woman who arrived late at night to an apartment in a horribly run-down neighborhood, and it turned out that another tenant already occupied it, would you still stay there? If we add to this that Bill Skarsgard plays the other tenant, the demonic clown Pennywise in the two Stephen King It movies, then we would think that the heroine would immediately turn around and run away. But then it wouldn’t be a horror movie. Especially not one as over-the-top gory as Zach Cregger’s independent feature debut, which pulls out all the stops to terrify viewers.
Wes Craven and Resident Evil 7
It’s hard to talk about The Barbarian because it relies heavily on unexpected twists defying expectations. Telling almost everything about what happened after the first act would be classified as a spoiler. And I mean a spoiler that would thoroughly undermine the film’s twisted surprises. Suffice it to say that anyone willing to go on the perverse journey will be satisfied with this work with a retro feel, reminiscent of Wes Craven’s early works and Resident Evil 7.
Actor/filmmaker Cregger is more associated with comedies. He was a founding member of the sketch comedy troupe The Whitest Kids U’Know and starred in sitcoms such as Friends with Benefits and Guys with Kids. That comedic experience comes in handy in this film, which he wrote and directed, and which offers quite a few moments of extremely dark humor to provide momentary relief from the nail-biting tension.
This airbnb is already booked and Bill Skarsgard is waiting in it…
The story opens with Tess (Georgina Campbell) arriving at her rented home on a Detroit block full of crumbling, abandoned houses (the film doesn’t serve as an effective marketing tool for the city’s chamber of commerce or the police). She is shocked to find that the house is already occupied by Keith (Skarsgard), who is friendly and gracious enough to welcome her there anyway, offering her the bedroom while he sleeps on the sofa. The girl is initially reluctant, but since she is convinced that there are no free hotel rooms due to the medical congress in the city, she accepts his offer.
Ominous warning signs point to things to come. As Tess sleeps, her bedroom door mysteriously opens on its own, and she hears Keith suffering a terrible nightmare out loud. But it’s only when he returns to the house the next day after a job interview that things start to deteriorate seriously. You will find yourself locked in the basement, which contains many hidden rooms and corridors. What he and Keith eventually find down there takes the film in a completely different direction.
Sexual harassment – in two ways…
As is an abrupt subplot involving a smug, self-absorbed actor (Justin Long, fantastic) accused of sexual harassment by a female co-star and desperate for money for his legal defense. And an extended flashback (shot in a narrower aspect ratio) set decades earlier involving the house’s very creepy former owner (Richard Brake).
Director-screenwriter Cregger takes an obvious perverse delight in guiding his audience through the strange twists and turns. If the final revelations, in which a truly terrifying character (the virtuoso performance of Matthew Patrick Davis) plays a role, tend towards clichés, they do not spoil the overall effect, and the hearts of cynics will be gladdened by the very dark ending, which would have made George Romero smile. Oh, and you’ll never feel the same about breastfeeding again.
A professional horror film from a non-horror director
The Barbarian would be one of the high points of the careers of many accomplished horror directors; that this is coming from someone with a background in Cregger’s previous work is something of a miracle. His vision is so confidently realized, with an unpredictable narrative structure and clever enough camera tricks, beautifully gritty production and makeup design, and sick gore effects, that this will be the best film Sam Raimi has ever directed.
Cregger also concocts a wry satire that is nicely baked into the story of men’s violence against women, how it’s historically been done behind closed doors, and how the suffering they cause creeps into the light of day. This fits nicely with one of my favorite movies: movies that focus on the dark recesses of American domesticity and complacency, look dead-on at the filth and filth beneath the surface, and confront the rot.
The Barbarian also succeeds where many other horror films, apparently about something, do not: a real, hard, rough, scorching horror film. Scary, funny, brutal, clever and perverse simultaneously – this is the material from which the classic horror Midnighters of the future are made.
Direction - 8.2
Acting - 8.4
Story - 8.2
Visuals/horror - 8.5
Ambience - 8.6
The Barbarian also succeeds where many other horror films, apparently about something, do not: a real, hard, rough, scorching horror film. Scary, funny, brutal, clever and perverse simultaneously - this is the material from which the classic horror Midnighters of the future are made.
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