While horror fans have plenty to look forward to this Halloween season, they got an early treat with Zach Cregger’s Barbarian.
The film sees a young woman named Tess (Georgina Campbell) end up in a strange situation after she finds her Airbnb double-booked and is forced to stay the night with a stranger named Keith (Bill Skarsgard). However, Keith ends up being the least of her concerns as the two of them discover an unexpected history of horrors that have laid dormant in the house. Barbarian delivers some of the strongest scares, goriest moments, and disturbing horror of any film this year, but the best part is not knowing anything about it before seeing it.
Sure, it’s generally best to know nothing about the plot or spoilers of a movie before going in, but a big part of why Barbarian succeeds in shocking its viewers is how it lingers in ambiguity through its opening moments. Tess and Keith’s meeting is an obviously strange, yet super relatable situation that’s surprisingly thrilling to watch as they’re understandably cautious and suspicious. Their sense of awareness and caution make them instantly intriguing and the way the film is transparent about things hooks you into some of the light tension and even comedy of the moment. At first, it can almost feel like you’re watching the start of a rom-com because of how easily enjoyable Campbell and Skarsgard’s chemistry is.
However, it’s really Cregger leaving the perfect trap for viewers to get sucked into the slow-growing nightmare that’s building as he starts to crank up the horror as well as the mystery. Barbarian is a textbook showing of how to build a great mystery and do big reveals without ever going too far. Every little thing Tess begins to discover about her situations, surroundings, and little details of the house instantly gets you thinking and makes you want to go deeper down the rabbit hole. The entire second half of the first act is truly a slow descent into darkness that leaves you on the edge of your seat and it all leads to an amazing shock that drives the rest of the film.
It feels like it’s been a while since a horror movie has come out like Barbarian that’s truly more fun to watch with a crowd because it delivers moments that evoke such strong reactions. With how steeped in mystery the film is at the start, the big scares and shocks pay off immensely and constantly keep you hooked on every new reveal. Barbarian only becomes more captivating and stranger as the film exits out of its first act and continually peels back the layers on its story and setting. At times, the way the film kind of restarts itself after big moments to shift to intertwined stories can break the momentum and pacing, but it ultimately works in adding great depth to the story and horror.
In terms of horror, Barbarian goes above and beyond to deliver the goods. Cregger’s direction and vision make it a tense and suspenseful thrill ride. The central “thing” that comes into play is a great ode to exploitation horror and a great spin on some Wrong Turn-inspired horror. Also, it delivers some jaw-dropping gory kills that up the shock value and will leave you stunned. Barbarian is a scary and bloody experience right up until the end and is easily one of the scariest films of the year. But it’s not all just good scares.
The multi-layered storytelling that expands on the world is equally as engaging throwing in some realistic horror that even finds ways to deliver some good humor. Without saying who Justin Long plays in the film, his performance is perfect as he elevates his character’s dimwittedness to darkly hilarious levels. With what you learn about him, he’d be easy to loathe, but Long and Cregger manage to make his character somehow make you laugh without losing the impact of the horrifying truth behind him. Truthfully, Barbarian actually handles its ties to real-life social horrors better than most movies do. Along with Cregger’s sharp writing, Campbell also puts in a great breakout performance as she brings some great strengths, smarts, and relatable charm to Tess. Also, as a horror fan, it’s great that wider audiences will get to see a legend of the genre like Richard Brake in a fittingly disturbing role.
With Cregger’s great execution of the story and scares as well as some strong performances and memorably engaging moments, it’s safe to say that Barbarian is THE best horror movie of the year. It’s the kind of crowd-pleasing and legitimately terrifying experience the horror genre needs more of and that everyone should check out ASAP.