Barbarian is a film I was excited for, in spite of not knowing anything about it. The film was directed by Zach Cregger in his sophomore directorial effort. His last film, a stupid fun comedy film called Miss March, received a single digit Rotten Tomatoes percentage, but this horror film received nearly perfect marks across the board. Ironically, it’s the prior film (and his involvement with Trevor Moore and friends) that made me excited for him.
As a teenager, I always loved Whitest Kids U’ Know, a sketch comedy series that may have been a little more miss than hit (but that didn’t stop me from loving it) and I was excited for what’d happen next with them.
It isn’t unheard of in the realm of horror for a comedian to hit pay dirt. Jordan Peele directed the fantastic horror thrillers Get Out and Us, respectively, and David Gordon Green did the new Halloween trilogy (which I didn’t care for much, personally).
Barbarian has an interesting premise for a film, but it is also a film I would recommend heading into as blindly as you can. I am at a point now that I don’t watch trailers for anything anymore if I can help it. My philosophy is that I will most likely watch it anyways, especially when it is a film as hyped as Barbarian was, so why delude the experience? The best description I can provide for Barbarian is to say that it is about a young woman who arrives at a rental house and discovers she was double-booked with somebody else. They agree to stay with each other for the night, and hereafter, the film Barbarian happens.
Your immediate impression is one of anxiety for the woman. When Zach Cregger wrote the film, he claimed one of his inspirations was a book that encouraged women to trust their intuition in scenarios involving red-flags and suspicious characters. Obviously and unfortunately, if a man arrives at a rental building and realizes he double-booked with a woman, the scenario is largely different. The first question for any woman is whether the man is dangerous or has ill intent.
As the film progresses and you become acquainted with the male character, you are left to your imagination. The film knows you are suspicious of him. We’ve seen this film. And you’re left waiting for the other shoe to drop and how. Is it a bait-and-switch? What if she’s the bad guy!? Barbarian happens.
The film largely follows Georgina Campbell, an actress who is largely new to the genre, but has a bright future should she decide to pursue it further. She is likable, charismatic, and is, in my opinion, one of the main highlights of the film. The other cast members involved are more associated with horror and may draw your attention. Bill Skarsgard (of IT fame) and Justin Long (from Sam Raimi‘s Drag Me To Hell and a lesser known horror flick I’d recommend called After.Life) are both heavily featured as well.
As a film, Barbarian goes down smoothly. The premise itself is deceptively simple, allowing oneself to easily insert themselves in the scenario, and then, it unravels in an entertaining, enigmatic fashion.
Like I said, I believe the film is best served with as little context as you can have for it. However, what I can tell you is that it is smartly written and detail-oriented. Although the film is very different from Get Out and Us (and yet, also of a similar wheelhouse), the director finds himself able to blend comedy with his horror without detracting from either element, much like Jordan Peele. Whereas Peele called to mind John Carpenter, Cregger feels like he makes good use of pages from Wes Craven‘s playbook.
It’s a simple film – mostly. It is a lot of what makes Barbarian an easy recommendation. Although there are political and social elements to be found in the film (and horror in itself has always been political), they are largely complimentary to the film itself. Justin Long’s sleazy character certainly feels timely with the #MeToo movement and you’ll find small commentaries on gentrification as well, but they’re all sprinkled in and feel in service to the story and its characters and not unwarranted or wedged in in a way that feels like a sloppy Ted Talk. It is a straight-up horror film and, as I said, it goes down easy because of it. I would absolutely recommend it.