PG Score: 8.25/10
Barbarian was released in theaters on 9/9/22
Writer/Director Zach Cregger (Co-Writer/Director of Miss March) makes his solo writing and directorial debuts for a feature film in formidable fashion with Barbarian. His wholly original, atmospheric nightmare is a horror fanatic’s playground. He makes the most of a talented cast and spine-tingling suspense to serve up a seriously scary thrill ride.
The premise follows Tess (Georgina Campbell), to Detroit for a job interview. She books an Airbnb, only to be blindsided when she discovers a man named Keith (Bill Skarsgård) is already staying at the house. He is willing to sleep on the couch so that she can take the bedroom. When she is unable to find alternative last-minute accommodations, she takes him up on the offer. It is not long before she comes to regret that decision.
Cregger keeps audiences guessing with a barrage of curveballs that lean further and further into insanity. Just when his direction seems clear, he takes a hard left into the unknown. He resists the temptation to retreat to familiar ground and instead takes daring storytelling steps. Rather than settle for the stereotypical grand reveal, he opts for leaving breadcrumbs to lead viewers down the path they think the twisted tale is going. Cregger then greets them with a hammer to the face and a shove off the cliff of what is expected. Then he does it again…and again.
The first-time filmmaker has pulled off a rare feat by concocting a unique movie in a genre that is usually overrun by tropes. His masterful construction of the steadily unfolding sequences of terror is the brightest point in a film gleaming with positives. Considering the unhinged subject matter, Cregger treats the buildup of these gleefully unnerving scenes with a surprising level of care. Anna Drubich’s sinister score is the icing on the cake. Do not be fooled by the expertly crafted tension, however. Barbarian is bonkers…full stop. The breakout director continues to push the envelope as he unveils the deranged story piece by bloody piece. The wild portions are elevated by the gripping, slow-burn suspense that precedes them, making the frenetic finish that much more warranted.
Cregger’s background in comedy pays dividends while avoiding any damage to the terrifying elements in play. His script imbues the frightening flick with pockets of humor that fit flawlessly within the 102-minute runtime. The jokes are never forced, and their pinpoint placement grants brief (and welcomed) respite from the otherwise unsettling endeavor. Given the disturbing material Barbarian tackles, it is especially impressive he manages to include several laugh-out-loud moments.
Justin Long provides plenty of support in that area as he is the cast’s primary source of comedic relief. The Jeepers Creepers star nails the part of AJ, a cocky actor destined for a rude awakening. Georgina Campbell shines as the empathetic, yet self-reliant Tess. She brings a welcomed spin to the horror heroine archetype and gives a compelling performance throughout. Bill Skarsgård is excellent in his portrayal of the eccentric Keith, and his chemistry with Campbell is a highlight. It is a pleasure to watch them work together, and one can only hope there will be more joint projects to come.
Successful Horror Debut
Zach Cregger’s foray into the horror realm wields an unpredictable narrative, timely humor, and effective pacing. Barbarian boasts textbook tension-building and packs a payoff that will leave even the most seasoned scream veteran with their jaw on the floor.