'Barbarian' is an Unpredictable Airbnb of Horrors - Knotfest

‘Barbarian’ is an Unpredictable Airbnb of Horrors

Posted by Nicolás Delgadillo in Culture on September 13, 2022

Tense, scary, wild, smart, gory, hilarious – you name it, Barbarian has it

Much like last year’s Malignant from James Wan and this year’s X from Ti West, Zach Cregger’s Barbarian is one of those horror movies that’s best left unspoiled. The less you know going in, the better. Largely unpredictable and unhinged in the best of ways, Barbarian takes its characters and the audience through multiple twists and turns – some terrifying, some disturbing, some gross, some irresistibly funny. 

Once again, you’re best off knowing next to nothing about this film beforehand, but the nature of a review requires me to get into the plot at least a little bit. So either stop here and know that, yes, I recommend seeing this in a packed theatre, or continue on to keep learning why I do! 

Barbarian follows a young woman named Tess (Georgina Campbell) who arrives in Detroit one stormy night with the promise of a job interview in the morning. As she attempts to check in to her Airbnb, she’s startled to discover that a man named Keith (Bill Skarsgård) is already staying in the house. Keith claims to have rented the place through a different app and appears to be just as surprised as Tess about the double-booking, but she obviously has doubts. Still, her options are pretty much nil, so against her better judgement she decides to stay the night in the house with this stranger and hope for the best.

Bill Skarsgård stars as Keith in ‘Barbarian’
Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

Cregger demonstrates a smart and exceptionally effective command of his film’s tone and rhythm throughout the first half. A plain understanding of gender dynamics allows for the tension and unease to build and then ebb and flow as Tess and the audience are thrown into a game of sussing out the true demeanor and motivations of her unexpected roommate. Skarsgård is a tremendous casting choice, whose large eyes convey innocence but whose imposing frame and offbeat answers to Tess’ line of questioning may reveal the opposite. For all of the red flags that are raised throughout that first night in the house, there are equally as many red herrings strategically placed in Cregger’s tight script.

As Tess later admits, if she and Keith’s roles were reversed she never would’ve let him in. Societal power imbalances are often at the forefront of Barbarian’s ethos; the owner of the rental property, a sleazy Hollywood actor played by Justin Long, is introduced dodging rape allegations and a Reagan-era flashback revealing the home’s original owner (a brief but memorable performance from Richard Brake) paints a pretty clear picture of where the film’s head is at. But for all of its clever plotting and weighty themes, Barbarian proves itself to be far more dedicated to the art of entertaining than anything else – and entertain it does, in a myriad of unexpectedly wild ways.

Georgina Campbell stars as Tess in ‘Barbarian’
Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

All three of the main characters commit the cardinal movie sin of going down into the dark and foreboding basement and it’s here that Cregger’s film goes into overdrive. Whatever you may think is going on at that point, Barbarian joyously tosses it out the window and all but incinerates the kind of slow, highly metaphorical horror we’ve become accustomed to getting out of smaller films like this. The things that take place in that basement veer far more towards absurd B-movie exploitation than anything else, delivering on gory shlock and hilarious “is-this-really-happening?” moments of insanity that very few in the audience will probably be prepared for.

I always prefer movies that swing for the fences even if they can’t always stick the landing, and Barbarian truly and undeniably just goes for it. The unruly thrill ride that is the film’s second half can’t quite compare to the masterful tension and terror of the first half; it struggles to get its momentum back, and when it does, it loses it again by the ending. There are times when it feels like Barbarian, for all of the fun it’s having, could’ve gone even further. A little more gross, a little more insane, a little more mean. But what’s here is still undoubtedly a blast, one that’s sure to please any self-respecting horror fan.

‘Barbarian’ is now playing in theaters.

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