One of the best things about the horror genre is the element of discovery inherent to its mission. Most successful horror films build from a singular premise with the sole purpose of disturbing the audience. Sometimes this results in grotesque imagery, while others feature unyielding tension. Blood or guts can gross out audiences, but concepts and ideas stick with the audience far after the lights kick on. Director Zach Cregger embraces the darkest and most obscene aspects of horror in his new film Barbarian. The result is an instant classic of purely insanity.
Tess (Georgina Campbell) arrives at her AirBnB with a surprise awaiting her: another renter. Keith (Bill Bill Skarsgård) has also booked the house. However, with a convention in town, the two are left to share the house for the evening. However, as the night and following day progress, mysterious happenings begin to occur around them.
Cregger, a veteran of the sketch comedy series The Whitest Kids U’Know, proves exceptionally adept at building and diffusing tension over the course of his film. Even in seemingly onocuious moments, he finds a way to ramp up the tension. He proves patient as a filmmaker, laying the ground work for red herrings and consequential images with skill. Even his choice of certain actors works to sell the film, with several playing into or against type at the drop of a hat. Most importantly, Cregger’s screenplay allows Barbarian to develop its characters in its own time. Even small asides speak to the kinds of people that Cregger’s used to populate the film.
Cregger’s willingness to go full-tilt into the absurd also allows him to room for direct revelations. Some information that he drops into the fray helps to build character, while other moments serve as simple comedy. Others serve dual purposes. A bit with a tape measurer becomes one of the funniest scenes of the year, while also allowing us to go deeper into the horrors awaiting us. Cregger brings the heart of his sketch comedy background out, allowing the film to take on a “nothing is too far” stance. This not only proves Cregger has imagination, but knows that the monsters are not always the ones we expect.
Campbell draws you into her journey, establishing herself as more than a typical horror film protagonist. She commits to the chaos, and as a result feels like a real person. Even when her character makes “horror movie decisions,” they come out of desperation or through acts of heroism. Campbell emits a drive that becomes infectious, drawing us onto her side as she traverses the absurdity of the film.
A real surprise is the way that Barbarian builds a believable world. The house in question feels alive, surviving while the Detroit neighborhood around it collapses. Grounding the film in a real-world location makes the story feeling more tangible and terrifying as a result. How it survives while others perish brings its own mythical questions, but that only adds to the atmosphere. As the film bounces between narrative arcs, the house takes on different personalities. The actual production design of the house is impressive, but the way in which Cregger establishes the geography of the area is essential to Barbarian‘s success.
Beyond the horror and the imagery, Barbarian features shockingly poignant commentary. Even the last few months have brought celebrities into controversy, with many believing they are blameless for their actions. Sexual violence lurks in every corner of this film, from the characters that populate it, to the acknowledged victims that are never seen. This gives Barbarian an edge that many horror films of its ilk are unable to deliver.
With Barbarian, Cregger quickly becomes a directorial talent to watch. Not only does he establish a keen sense of the genre, but displays refined storytelling as well. As a result, Barbarian establishes itself as an instant classic. A wild ride that never fails to entertain, this is one of the most memorable films of 2022.
Alan’s Rating: 9/10
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