Barbarian hits North American theaters on Friday, Sept. 9.
Zach Cregger's Barbarian exists to be abrasive and uncomfortable. It wants to eviscerate audience boundaries and bathe in their mortified gasps. Cregger architects raucously horrific sequences that embrace exploitation and introduce detestable characters to serve over-the-top just desserts. Barbarian can feel like two different movies stitched together with Leatherface's craftsmanship — one an accomplished thriller with shocks abound, the other a clumsier approach to Hollywood cancel culture — but at the end of the massacre, it's a savage commentary that properly incinerates comfort zones.
At the onset, Barbarian addresses modern companies like Airbnb and Uber that depend wholly on blind trust between users and either renters or drivers. Tess (Georgina Campbell) and Keith (Bill Skarsgård) are individuals who've had the same rental double-booked outside Detroit in a dilapidated, impoverished neighborhood. Without options, Tess and Keith share the night as Tess rightfully approaches the situation with buckets of apprehension — despite Keith's assurances that he's another good guy. The established gendered tension is authentic as Keith attempts hospitable gestures like inviting Tess inside or pouring her tea. Cinematography conversely accentuates Keith's looming outline in doorways or Tess locking every door whenever in a new room. It's only the beginning of Tess' nightmare after discovering a secret door, hidden bedrooms, and a tunnel system beneath the home.
At its best, Barbarian uses quaint suburban dressings to hide an otherwise abhorrent underbelly from whence thunderous horror entertainment slithers. Cregger's screenplay is rather brazen in pacing and throttles forward with awe-striking surprises that you don't see that often in today's horror releases. A meaner-than-Myers streak propels the evolution of Cregger's story and keeps us enthralled because of how abruptly chaos descends or how swiftly the narrative pivots. Barbarian convinces us that anything can — and will — happen, which serves its genre accents magnificently as everything from kidnapper traumas to creature-feature craziness (shout out to The Hills Have Eyes) morph tones by the minute.
Then Justin Long's television director "AJ" is introduced, and searing commentaries presume violent punishments are a fair trade for divisive thematic introductions of "he said, she said" politics.
Appropriately, Barbarian advocates for nothing in AJ's personality nor does it demand you sympathize with pitiful protagonists. Cregger doesn't make a spiritual Dashcam successor that's all bad-faith bluster. It's hard to articulate peak and valley criticisms because anything beyond trailer reveals shouldn't be spoiled. AJ's there for us to hate, and we do — vehemently — since storytelling beats revel in his misogyny and despicableness with a heavy-handedness that can become an overt distraction. Barbarian has nothing new to say about #MeToo movements and believing women, yet it also unleashes repugnant catharsis unto Weinstein and Ratner idolizers. Cregger fearlessly weaponizes traumas that will undoubtedly drive away audiences who won't want to stomach such spotlights. Still, Barbarian isn't here to grant passes or shoehorn taboos without fulfilling bloodthirsty judgment — there are risks with writing a movie like Barbarian, which seemingly doesn't bother Cregger.
So wages a psychotic battle for survival that splices multiple horror subgenres, from serial killer thrillers to beastly cave-dwelling escapes. There's a scumminess and repulsive sleaze as Tess encounters unbelievable terrors that recall everything from [REC] to The Descent, as Barbarian keeps daring you to let your guard collapse. It's the kind of horror that spits on the audiences, rubs our faces through toxic muck, and rolls the credits with no apology — which is morbidly refreshing? Apologies for the phrasing, but Barbarian is the most royally f@*ked up horror flick in some time and revels in its grotesque presentations. The danger feels electric, and the effects from deformed creature costumes to mutilated bodies transport us back to 2000s titles about hulking evils, violent demises, and all the ickiest feelings.
Along the way, Cregger's screenplay does take swings that favor unpredictability over structural stability. Tess' anxiety-riddled introductory segment about Keith's suspicious nice guy routine is just that, an opening that's smash-interrupted by AJ's takeover in the following act. Storytelling jumps time passages forward and backward, focusing on characters in diverse periods that chronicle a Detroit suburb's whitewashed beginnings to ramshackle and impoverished becomings. Some might say Barbarian incites without insight by the way AJ handles his "unfair" situation, while others will struggle with Cregger's bounce-about execution that's like a rollercoaster with no safety bar. It's all valid, but that's also why others will adore the renegade and full-throttle nature of Barbarian — the thrill of holding on for dear life.
Source: IGN.com Barbarian Review