What is Barbarian about?
Barbarian begins as a good horror story should, on a dark and stormy night outside an Airbnb where Tess (Georgina Campbell) is meant to be staying the night before a big interview. Things seem to be going wrong when she opens the lockbox outside and there isn’t a key. She almost thinks that she’s going to have to sleep in her car when a light turns on inside.
Turns out that the Airbnb was double booked and a strange man named Keith (Bill Skarsgård) still has a few days to stay there. The two of them decide to make it work, spend the night there and call the agency in the morning. Things seem to be going fairly OK, both of them finding a way to get along… until Tess notices something odd about the basement, which begins a downward spiral into hell.
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Barbarian is a film that’s incredibly hard to talk about in any detail because part of what makes it so good is how everything about it is absolutely unexpected. Talking about it feels like navigating a minefield, anything could blow up and ruin a potentially fantastic moment so just go see the film. See it, go in blind as you can and if you’re a horror fan then you’re going to enjoy this. Obviously, there will be no spoilers here but if you want to go in blind as you can, come back after you go see this film because it’s absolutely worth seeing.
Barbarian is the cinematic equivalent of following someone in a car who indicates they’re going to turn left but decides to turn right. You might think you know how this film’s going to go, thanks to things like the setting or the casting of Bill Skarsgård AKA Pennywise The Clown from the It remake, tell you this film is going to be one thing but by the end of the first act, it’s clear that no matter what you think is going to happen, you have no idea what you’re about to sit through and it’s absolutely goddamn incredible.
Barbarian plays the audience like a fiddle with expert control over the building and release of tension. It lingers on certain shots just long enough that you can’t help but look in the background for something to appear, before deflating the situation with a well-timed line or naturalistic reaction (The single word “Nope” is so perfectly timed that it will bring a cinema to roars of laughter) and then ratcheting up that tension again. Just when you think you have the film worked out and know what’s going to happen, it spins around and flips you off before dancing merrily off to the next absolutely insane thing.
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One of those insane things that deserves bringing up is that after a particularly shocking moment happens, the film cuts to a character named AJ (Justin Long), an actor who the film uses to discuss the Me Too movement and rape culture. He is simultaneously hilarious because of how much of an asshole he is but also hateable because of that. Heck, half of the reason to cast Justin Long is to set people up to like the guy (because Long is generally a well-liked actor, this is him playing seriously against type) so that when he does some incredibly shitty things it adds to the shock of the film.
The more that Barbarian goes on, the wilder it gets. Every new reveal, be it location-based, character-based or a flashback to explain something about the house throws the audience off expertly, the film wants you to not be able to collect your bearings because it is enjoying getting to fuck with you. The imagery is disturbing but never to the point of gratuitous, it knows how to shock and does it with style in ways that you won’t see coming and culminates in a way that’s absolutely nuts but also incredibly clever.
Even with all the insanity going on, the film does what Horror is always great at and uses the subject material to talk about things like the Me Too movement or problems with the police or just how women have to move around the world in order to survive. That last one is exemplified in the little things Tess does, her trepidation to be alone with Keith or how she locks every door to any room she’s in.
This isn’t even subtext either, the film talks about this stuff explicitly and uses it to set the tone of the film, a tone that the film manages so carefully that even when it goes to some absolutely insane places it never loses sight of it’s messaging about how women are treated in society, if anything it kicks it into high gear.
Barbarian is brilliant, one of the scariest and smartest films of the year. It takes huge swings and scores home runs every time. With some absolutely fascinating characters, striking visuals and whip smart dialogue, every single minute of this film will have you in awe of what they just pulled off. It feels like it shouldn’t work, like one of the massive twists that the film throws out should backfire horribly but it never does. To put as simply as possible, this is one of the best films of the year and an absolute must see.
What did you think of Barbarian?
What do you think of Barbarian? Did this horror thriller keep you on the edge of your seat?
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