Georgina Campbell - Tess
Bill Skarsgard - Keith
Justin Long - AJ
Richard Brake - Frank
Running Time: 102 Minutes
In town for a job interview, a young woman arrives at her Airbnb late at night only to find that it has been mistakenly double-booked and a strange man is already staying there. Against her better judgment, she decides to stay the night anyway, but soon discovers that there is much more to be afraid of in the house than the other house guest.
2022’s BARBARIAN is a film I barely knew anything about before seeing it in theaters opening day. I may have watched a TV spot once or twice, but didn’t really pay attention besides learning that both Bill Skarsgard and Justin Long were in it. To my surprise, not only did I learn this film was written and directed by Zach Cregger [of The Whitest Kids ‘U Know and MISS MARCH fame], but BARBARIAN had a strong word-of-mouth. So considering we’re in the middle of 61 Days of Halloween, I went to a theater and gave the film a shot. And I’m glad I did because this film is definitely a horror surprise for 2022.
The less you know about BARBARIAN, the better. The narrative is inspired by other films, like THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS for example. So you expect certain things to happen because the story feels familiar at the start. But then it turns on the tropes we’re accustomed to, taking the audience through twists no one could see coming. Then we learn the film is really three different stories/perspectives in one, all coming together quite nicely in the last twenty minutes. While I think the last part of the film was kind of lame and derivative, like no one really knew how to end the film in a way that matched the cleverness of everything prior to it, the rest of BARBARIAN is solid and a lot of fun. Plus, the film does have commentaries on things in our modern society that I wish were explored more, especially in the last half of the movie. The film takes place in a desolate town in Detroit with a minority lead actress, if that tells you what kind of topics are brought up. But other than that, there’s some twisted and disturbing stuff going on in this film at times, which makes going in blind a fun ride.
The direction by Cregger really surprised me, considering he’s not really known for horror. But certain visual effects are strikingly effective and creepy. And the way Cregger paces the film and introduces characters help build atmosphere and mood throughout. During the first half of the film, my anxiety was going up at times because there was so much tension on screen, I was just waiting for something major to happen with the characters on screen. There are also moments of humor that actually work, plus some of the jump scares did get me because of the tension building to them. The uses of light versus shadow are done really well and the use of the locations are visualized well to increase the mystery of what’s really going on. Like I mentioned, I thought the last part of the film felt derivative and the direction didn’t really help there. But overall, I want to see Cregger direct more horror films because he’s pretty damn good at it.
The actors are all solid. Georgina Campbell is great as the well-meaning and intelligent Tess, making the audience want to know more about her as the film rolls on. Bill Skarsgard is an inspired casting choice as Keith, considering his iconic role as Pennywise in the recent IT movies. He’s so good playing a creepy villain, it makes you wonder if he’s about to do the same in BARBARIAN. He’s great in his role. Justin Long also brings comic relief as cocky actor AJ, a guy dealing with things that make him less sympathetic as we know more about him. And Richard Brake plays another creepy serial killer type, doing it well as always.
THE FINAL HOWL
BARBARIAN is quite a pleasant surprise, considering I barely knew anything about this horror film prior to taking a chance on it this weekend due to word-of-mouth. Using three different perspectives to tell a single straightforward story, the film takes you for a ride as it builds tension and suspense with the use of twists and turns that will change your expectations of certain horror tropes being followed. Director Zach Cregger proves that he’s a very good horror director, focusing on mood and atmosphere to raise the tension and suspense level of his movie. The actors, especially Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgard and Justin Long, all provide solid performances. I do think the last portion of the film fell flat and got a bit too campy. Plus, the use of social commentaries on gender and minorities in a city like Detroit are interesting, but I wish more was done with it. But overall, BARBARIAN is a film worth seeing if you’re in the mood to watch something new during this Halloween season. The less you know about it, the better.
(8 out of 10)