When its trailer premiered ahead of The Black Phone, Barbarian jumped up pretty high on the list of most anticipated horror movies for 2022. Critical buzz for this one has been impressive. But outside of a creepy trailer that will make you think twice about renting an Airbnb, there’s not a whole lot of information about this one. From all indications, however, the less you know going in to this one might be for the best. Like last year’s Malignant, Barbarian promises to defy any and all expectations.
A woman arrives at an Airbnb that’s already occupied by another renter – and a terrible secret waiting down in the basement.
Barbarian Boasts an Unpredictable Story Alongside Genuine Slow Burn Horror
Any synopsis that gives more information than what’s above should be banned. Simply put, Barbarian is the rare movie that’s never quite going in the direction you assume. What’s masterful about its promotional material is that it covers about the first 15 minutes or so of the movie. Everything else that follows twists in unexpected directions. Writer and director Zach Cregger convinces you that you’re watching one movie before swerving in a different direction and then swerving yet again. There’s a rare unpredictability to the movie – its storytelling is unconventional. Cregger also balances out the scares with some dark humor in its mid-act once Justin Long’s disgraced actor shows up. The tonal shift feels a bit sudden but it works in the movie’s grand scheme.
Writer and director Zach Cregger convinces you that you’re watching one movie before swerving in a different direction and then swerving yet again.
Most importantly, Barbarian is a tense and frightening movie. For most of its third act, Barbarian slow burns as it teases you with you think you’re watching. There are multiple moments where you’ll feel uncomfortable with the tension. While Cregger employs a few very effective jump scares – beware of dark halls – he largely relies upon atmosphere and the audience’s imagination. Though its subject matter initially looks like it go the direction of Hostel, Barbarian relies more on what’s implied than what is put on screen. Of course, there’s still plenty of shocking and WTF moments to go around.
Barbarian Brings Attention to the Various Forms of Violence Visited Upon Women
Barbarian keeps its scale small relying largely on three principal performances. Straight out of the gate, Barbarian introduces us to Georgina Campbell’s (Black Mirror) ‘Tess’ and Campbell’s performance carries the movie’s first and third acts. For the most part, Cregger focuses more on themes and atmosphere rather than character arcs. Nonetheless, Campbell impresses as a survivor – it’s not hard to believe her character might make it to the end of the movie. Not surprisingly, Bill Skarsgard (It, It Chapter Two) brilliantly encapsulates his role’s ambiguity, delivering on what the trailers teased even it’s not where the movie ultimately goes. But Justin Long’s (Drag You To Hell) performance steals the show. On one level, Long adds some levity to a supremely tense thriller. Yet Long’s character and performance are essential to the Cregger’s subtext.
In contrast, Justin Long’s ‘AJ’ wants to believe he is a ‘good man’ accused of bad things or, from his perspective, mistakes.
Regardless of its shifting narrative, Barbarian is essentially a movie about toxic masculinity and misogyny. Without giving too much away, Richard Brake (31, Halloween II) plays a central role in what drive the movie’s present day story, His character is defined by a sense of entitlement to women and their bodies. His hatred for women is obvious in his actions. In contrast, Justin Long’s ‘AJ’ wants to believe he is a ‘good man’ accused of bad things or, from his perspective, mistakes. And for a while, Barbarian doesn’t seem seem to take any sides. But the final act betrays A.J.’s less overt entitlement and toxic behaviour.
Barbarian Sets Itself Apart From the Pack
If you haven’t seen Barbarian yet, avoid spoilers or more detailed overviews of its story at all costs. Going into this one cold will be an absolutely rewarding experience. Cregger’s story constantly twists, defying the audience any comfort, and there’s more than a helping of dark humor. Running beneath the surface are themes about toxic masculinity and misogyny that are all too timely. Above all else, Barbarian is a terrifying movie that milks its slow burn hitting multiple crescendos of scares. A lot viewers will find this one to be a bit too strange for their tastes – it’s not for everyone.