Barbarian, helmed by Zach Cregger of Whitest Kids U’Know fame, follows a young girl renting an Airbnb in Detroit for a job interview who, discovers another man is already renting the property. The events that follow can only be described as absolute unhinged chaos. I would love to talk more about the plot, but for your sake, it’s best to go into this film completely and totally blind. I know this is a common trope to say, particularly in horror, but it rings true here more than any film I’ve seen this year.
We have seen a recent trend of actors and writers who have started their careers in comedy transitioning into the field of horror directing seamlessly. From heralded Jordan Peele’s trio of mind-bending romps to John Krasinski’s Quiet Place offerings, the line between making people terrified and making them laugh seems to be much thinner than one would initially presume.
These are often two of the hardest emotions to elicit out of a viewer in cinema, so it makes sense that the crossover should be more obvious than it is. Cregger takes his swing with his first feature film and absolutely blasts it out of the park.
Clearly inspired Raimi-esque cinematography and the constant whiplash of subversion of viewer expectations make Barbarian an original, creative, instant classic that will leave you feeling gleeful, horrified, and probably in need of a nice shower after viewing. Cregger uses every single tool he can to divert and confuse us from the opening shot, even drawing on actor’s past roles to mislead the audience, particularly in terms of Bill Skarsgård (It), whose Pennywise eyes leave the viewer untrusting and cautious.
His use of comedy is my favorite thing about his directorial style. Blending comedy and horror without fully falling into campy territory is a herculean task but Barbarian walks the tightrope, effortlessly blending laugh-out-loud moments that snap into stomach-turning dread at a moment’s notice. There is one specific scene involving a tape measure that had the theater rolling in laughter only to be stopped in their tracks in stunned horrific silence in one second.
Barbarian breaks all the traditional rules.
Barbarian has no discernable beginning, middle, or end, but instead flows from one story to the next, slowly weaving the plot together in front of the viewer’s eyes without them even realizing what is happening. It breaks all the rules of a traditional plot, with multiple rising actions and climaxes dotted throughout, and features one of the most sudden credit rolls I’ve ever seen.
However, it all works due to anchoring performances by Georgina Campbell (Krypton), Justin Long (Jeepers Creepers), and Bill Skarsgård (It). Campbell is the perfect scream queen in this movie; her smart decisions and headstrong attitude quickly entice the audience and help the believability of her situation. Justin Long somehow brings a massive amount of charm to a truly unpleasant character, and Bill Skarsgård is absolutely captivating every time he’s on screen. It’s certainly worth mentioning Anna Drubich as well, whose captivating score added layers of fear, dread, and even, at times, relief.
All in all, Barbarian was one of my favorite films of the year. It’s best enjoyed with the viewer blissfully unaware of the ensuing havoc that lies ahead of them. The audience experience and the spectacle of the big screen certainly heightened the film as well. If you seek original and unique horror concepts, take a trip to the theater to see Barbarian today. I can only hope it will leave you grinning from ear to ear as the credits roll, much as it did me.
Barbarian is currently playing in theaters nationwide.
Have you seen the madness of Barbarian? Were you impressed? Sound off in the comments below.