Director: Zach Cregger
Writers: Zach Cregger
Stars: Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long, Matthew Patrick Davis, Richard Brake
If not one of the best horror films of the year, Barbarian certainly gets my vote for the most unpredictable. One of the great joys of being a horror fan is coming across a film where you have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen next, which doesn’t happen very often.
Because of this, I’ll refrain from explaining much of the plot. It’s one of those films where the less you know going in, the more fun it is. I will say that the overall narrative centers around an AirBNB in one of the worst parts of Detroit. As it opens, Tess (Georgina Campbell) has come to town for an interview, but finds the house has been double booked. Also staying there is Keith (Bill Skarsgard), who’s friendly enough to offer the bedroom – he offers to take the couch – until they can sort things out. Though they get along fairly well that evening, she doesn’t entirely trust him, and indeed, there does seem to be something sort of “off” about Keith.
However, just when you think you’ve got Barbarian figured out, trust me, you don’t. In fact, the tone and setting changes so abruptly that we briefly wonder if Barbarian might be an anthology film. When sitcom actor AJ (Justin Long) appears during the second act, it’s like we’re watching a completely different movie. His own backstory is morbidly compelling, but seemingly unrelated…for a while. Then there’s the flashback sequence featuring the house’s original owner, Frank (the always-creepy Richard Brake), which almost looks like it could’ve been lifted from Pleasantville.
That’s all I’m saying about the story. The unpredictability and jarring tonal shifts are part of what makes Barbarian so intriguing. While some of writer-director Zach Cregger’s influences are obvious, it’s what he does with them that matters. The film is, by turns, creepy, atmospheric, suspenseful, disturbing, funny and sometimes really gross. By that, I don’t mean simply gory – though it’s often extremely brutal – but what’s implied as the story unfolds.
At the same time, I can imagine just as many viewers hating Barbarian, which is certain to spark plenty of love-it-or-loathe-it debates (automatically making it worthwhile). Regardless of one’s overall opinion, the film is loaded with surprises, from the narrative structure right down to the characters. It isn’t gonna be everyone’s cup of tea, but adventurous fans who appreciate having their expectations repeatedly confounded might find this to be a slice of horror heaven.