This review should really start off with a faux spoiler alert – not that any major plot points are given away or twists revealed - it’s simply the fact that Barbarian needs to be seen to be believed.
It was made repeatedly clear by those involved in promoting the movie that no reviews or spoilers were to be published in any form until two days before Barbarian’s release, and after seeing the results, you can understand why. The story makes a brave handbrake turn and to detail it in any way would spoil the fun. It would be easier if this review simply consisted of ‘go and experience Barbarian for yourself, you won’t believe it’, but that wouldn’t make for a compelling read. So, if you’re still willing to delve deeper now that you’re aware of the potential danger - just like the movie’s protagonist Tess Campbell… I may have said to much already – then read on.
The story opens with Tess (Georgina Campbell) arriving at a Detroit rental property on a rainy evening, only to discover that it is occupied by someone else, Keith (Bill Skarsgård) to be precise. Both are slightly confused and nervy but they establish that their individual bookings appear to be legitimate. With the owner not responding to calls and the weather not improving, Keith convinces Tess to stay for the night and she cautiously accepts but before they retire to their separate beds, the pair share a bottle of wine and begin to bond. What begins as an awkward stand-off between the two develops into a night of fun and deep conversation. However, things drastically change the next day. With Keith absent from the property, Tess makes an unexpected discovery when her curiosity gets the better of her.
So, what can be said about Barbarian? Well, apart from it being a wild ride, it’s also really good. The trio of Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård and Justin Long are perfectly cast in their roles. Campbell gives the complete performance; at times she displays vulnerability but she is never the damsel. Skarsgård is able to convey creepy and charming in the same heartbeat, and Long, well, a lot of people have waited a long time to see a performance like this.
Given the complete anarchic nature of the story, there is also room for more realism - themes of sexual assault, women not being believed and men’s attitudes towards them are present. Tess constantly has to fight to be understood and heard, regardless of the situation, and the person that seemingly understands her the most is the one that could cause her the most harm. Director Zach Cregger does well to include these elements in a thought-provoking manner, playing with the notions and allowing them to permeate without trivialising them within the nature of the story. Barbarian could be seen as a metaphor for the anger and emotion that manifests itself when actions from the past are forced to be buried.
The tale weaves and darts in every direction but by half way through you will be completely hooked, and even a little impatient for the story to continue. There are some creases in the plot but these are easily overlooked given the rate at which events unfold.
Some people have already stated that Barbarian is this year’s Malignant, which could mean a trend develops, and movies of this nature become more commonplace. This would be a shame as the thing that makes both movies stand out of the crowd is the fact they completely subvert expectations and deliver a jaw-dropping spectacle that you could never predict. If this becomes the new ‘thing’ to do in horror, it will become over-saturated quickly and there will be no crowd to stand out from.
There isn’t much else to say, or can be said, without spoiling the fun or building the movie up so much that it fails to impress. Should you choose to see Barbarian, then please refrain from finding out anything else – although you can watch the trailer below, should you wish to – just make sure you double check before booking your next Airbnb.
Movie Score: 4/5
Barbarian will be released to theaters on September 9th