Barbarian 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The element of surprise is crucial in horror. It’s all about creating a potent shock. Jump scares are an easy way to accomplish this. Even though the ploy is pervasive, it’s a cheap way to earn tension. More creative is when a film manages to surprise with a plot that upends the viewer’s expectations. Barbarian is that movie.

Tess is a documentary researcher who books an Airbnb at 467 Barbary Street in a derelict area of Detroit. The address is mentioned enough times to become a trivia question if this production stands the test of time. I’m optimistic that it will. Tess will be attending a job interview in the morning. She arrives late at night and is disturbed to find someone already staying at the property. The awkward man is memorably portrayed by Bill Skarsgård. The fact that he was Pennywise the Dancing Clown in 2017’s It will only fuel your misgivings. The mix-up is seemingly due to a booking error. She ultimately decides to stay the night, given the lack of other options.

The greatest horror films are built around a compelling lead, and Barbarian has one of the best. Tess is a smart cookie — in the beginning anyway. She takes a picture of Keith’s ID, keeps the bedroom door locked, and refuses to drink the tea he prepared out of her sight. Her later decisions will grow less and less defensible. Keith is an awkward man, but her reservations about him are somewhat calmed when he expresses love for a little-seen documentary on which she worked. They bond over a bottle of wine that he opens in her presence. She becomes relaxed. Think you know where this is going? You’re not even close.

The strength of Barbarian is in the intricate story that mutates and changes. I’ve barely scratched the surface of what happens. The tale will involve an underground passage beneath the home. Filmmaker Wes Craven would be proud. Tess’s bewildering decision to descend into a dark and foreboding basement is a foolish choice that makes no sense coming from a previously intelligent woman. However, this is a genre flick. Stupid decisions must be made to generate scares. A dreadful discovery arises. I must admit that scene is one of the scariest reveals I can recall in recent memory. The anxiety is aided by director of photography Zach Kuperstein whose expert use of lighting and camera angles throughout the film heightens the suspense. Then without warning, the account abruptly flips into a tonally different saga about a cocky actor named AJ Gilbride. Baby-faced Justin Long is playing wildly against type.

Barbarian is a twisty chronicle that manages to weave the decline of Detroit, how ineffective police allow rampant crime to flourish in impoverished areas, and the #MeToo social movement. These disparate elements are creatively united by director Zach Cregger who also wrote the screenplay. Cregger assumes you’ve seen enough horror classics (Psycho, Friday the 13th, Misery) to make easy assumptions that he can overthrow. I do take exception when the “big bad” is such a physically overwhelming entity that it removes all hope that it can be overcome. It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Despite the milieu, it’s highly amusing when AJ is initially excited to discover the additional basement of the home he owns. He chooses to measure the extra square footage without even considering the extreme danger in which he has willingly placed himself.

A talented ensemble aids director Zach Cregger, but Georgina Campbell is the MVP. The actress immediately joins the ranks of those classic scream queens that blend warmth with tenacity. Fellow actresses Janet Leigh, Linda Blair, and Jaime Lee Curtis are part of an elite club. I hesitate to make bold pronouncements that don’t stand the test of time, but her spirited and captivating performance is really that good. The success of Barbarian rests on her impressive achievement.

09-13-22

4 Responses to “Barbarian ”

  1. This was scary good. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. You highlighted my favorite part about Justin measuring the rooms during this scary time. 4 ⭐️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Definitely one of my favs on the year.

    Liked by 1 person

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