Barbarian (Review) – Make Sure You Go In Knowing Absolutely Nothing

DIRECTOR: Zach Cregger

CAST: Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long, Matthew Patrick Davis, Richard Brake, Kurt Braunohler, Jaymes Butler, J.R. Esposito, Kate Bosworth, Sophie Sörensen, Brooke Dillman, Sara Paxton

RUNNING TIME: 107 mins

CERTIFICATE: 18

BASICALLY…: A young woman (Campbell) discovers a disturbing secret in the basement of her rented home…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

UK audiences are at a slight disadvantage now that Barbarian, the much-buzzed horror film, has finally arrived in cinemas, more than a month after its Stateside debut. Spurred by a marketing campaign that gave away nothing about the plot beyond a certain point, the film’s secrecy (in addition to strong reviews) led to it becoming a box office hit, grossing almost ten times its $4.5 million budget as of writing – except, now that its secrets are out, and more than a few articles and online videos discussing them with heavy spoilers, what are the chances that someone over here has unwittingly come across said content before even having had a chance to see the film, thereby ruining most if not all of its mystique?

Of course, nothing about Barbarian beyond a certain point will be discussed in this review, as it really is the kind of film that contains twists and turns that are best left for your own viewing experience, and not to be ruined by someone discussing them in far too detailed fashion. The unexpectedness does make writer-director Zach Cregger’s film a fun and suspenseful ride, even though there are parts where you wish things would get crazier than they already do.

The film opens on a rainy night in a dark, desolate neighbourhood area of Detroit, where a young woman named Tess (Georgina Campbell), in town for a job interview, pulls up to a house that she’s rented for the night via Airbnb. Unfortunately, when she arrives, there’s already someone there: an odd fellow named Keith (Bill Skarsgård), who appears to have double-booked the property, but nonetheless invites Tess inside to get out of the rain and sort out their problems. At first, Tess is a little put-off by some of Keith’s red-flag behaviour, but it turns out to be nothing when she discovers a hidden pathway in the basement of the house… and that is all you need to know going in. What does Tess find? Is Keith as untrustworthy as he seems? How does Justin Long, playing a sleazy sitcom actor, factor into everything? You’re not going to find any answers here, because that would be wildly unfair to both the filmmakers who have staked everything on twists and turns that honestly shouldn’t be ruined by anyone, and to you, the viewer who deserves to see it with as uninformed a mindset as possible.

Admittedly, it does make reviewing a movie like Barbarian rather difficult, because there are certain qualities that can’t be brought up without going into specific plot details, but I’ll certainly give it a try by talking about things that don’t necessarily require much context. For one, Cregger’s writing and direction is predominantly solid, making you feel more and more uneasy as the film goes along, but also at points laughing along with its wry sense of humour without crashing into the overall dark and sinister tone. There are moments in this movie where you are practically looking away from the screen due to how gory – and sometimes pretty gross – things get, yet it’s not too long after the fact that you’re also wildly amused by how genuinely funny it can be, all while never feeling as though you’re now watching a completely different movie. When you have actors like Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, and especially Justin Long who can easily fluctuate between being utterly terrified, delivering a sardonic comment, and sometimes being more than a little off-putting, the flow of the tone feels more natural and less as though you’re watching a mish-mash of genres, and Cregger, along with his actors, gives off the right amount of naturalism to make their film a rather intense and unnerving experience.

However, there are parts of the movie where it doesn’t quite reach that level of all-out craziness that was perhaps just a bit too over-hyped. Make no mistake, there are absolutely bonkers things that occur throughout this movie, many of them just being downright weird, but on top of that there are just as many things that feel a bit undercooked; there is some last-minute exposition which comes in a bit awkwardly to tie up some loose ends, and a somewhat rushed finale that is more or less sprung upon the viewer (it took me a couple of minutes to realise that we were finally at the climax). You’ll also have some characters who do things that nobody honestly would in that situation, otherwise the movie would be over and done with in a flash; case in point, there are cops in this movie, but they make the bumbling ones from Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left look relatively competent by comparison. You can’t help but feel a bit more time should have been spent on certain things over others, but it doesn’t hurt the overall mood and atmosphere it does pretty well to encapsulate.

Like many have been saying, Barbarian is a film that’s best experienced with as little information as possible – in other words, stay far away from pretty much every other online article that’s already discussing this movie (except this one, of course).

SO, TO SUM UP…

Barbarian is a mostly solid horror with plenty of surprises that are best left for the viewer to experience, including its strong balance of a dark comedic tone that’s elevated by strong performances, but some undercooked parts make it feel a bit too over-hyped.

Barbarian is now showing in cinemas nationwide – click here to find a screening near you!

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