The contents in the “archives” were created and posted by the previous owners of this website. We are not responsible for any misleading or incorrect content that is posted here.
the horror movie Barbarian is best approached by an audience that knows as little about it as possible. The trailer of the movie encourages this to an extent that may deter some viewers: it reveals little beyond the film’s original set-up. Even in our spoiler-phobic times, keeping secrets makes sense for a horror movie — it’s just scarier when viewers don’t know what’s coming. But the real test of a well-constructed movie comes when there are no more surprises. At the end of the 102 minute runtime, with its secrets exposed, Barbarian still has so much to offer. And some of that is something for viewers to fear, aside from the initially ominous portrait of the silent terror that can lurk in a house when two strangers are forced together on a dark and stormy night.
Written and directed by Zach Cregger (formerly of the sketch comedy group The Whitest Kids U’ Know), Barbarian starts simple enough. Tess Marshall (Georgina Campbell) arrives at an Airbnb in suburban Detroit, only to discover that it is double booked and that a man named Keith (Bill Skarsgård) is already staying there. Stuck in a storm with no other options and an important job interview in the morning, Tess makes the risky decision to stay the night.
[Ed note: While this review preserves most of the movie’s surprises, some minor setup spoilers follow.]
Tess is a great modern horror movie protagonist – with a doe-eyed but not naive, guarded but kind young woman who just wants to get a good job and get back to wherever she comes from. Her bad decisions — the kind every horror protagonist has to make, from staying in the house to exploring the depths — mostly stem from her kindness and wanting to believe the best about others.
Keith, to his credit, knows what this all looks like. He’s smart enough to know that Tess has no reason to trust him, and every reason to expect the worst. And he’s trying to improve that awareness by going out of his way to make sure she’s as comfortable as possible. However, there’s nothing he can really do; the weight and history of too many women threatened by too many men hangs heavy in a situation like this and casts a shadow over Barbarian As a whole. Even if Keith is constantly trying to put Tess at ease, she – and the public – can never really trust him. (Even if no-makeup Skarsgård isn’t recognizable as the man Pennywise played in the recent It movies, the disturbing energy is still there and put to good use.)
This is true Barbarian begins: as an exciting story about two strangers who must weather a storm together, told from the perspective of a woman who constantly has to worry about whether the man she shares a house with is dangerous. Even with the modern Airbnb spin, this is classic horror movie, enough to support a fast and dirty exploitation movie. But Cregger only uses the premise as the basis for something more ambitious, delivering a sleek, surprising film with effective suspense, while also giving viewers plenty to think about.
No filmmaker takes a decision lightly, but every creative choice made in Barbarian is amazingly well calibrated in a way that rewards close viewing, while also not detracting from a more casual, thrilling experience. From the Detroit setting — arbitrary at first, but eventually given reasons beyond aesthetic decay — to the sharing economy snafu that gives the film its original premise, there’s a methodical execution of arrangement and subversion that’s just subtle enough to make you go away. going from what viewers would expect. Yet it is never so dramatic that Barbarian ends in a completely different place from where it started.
That’s the film’s greatest strength: for all its twists and turns, Barbarian is more of a film about re-contextualizing what’s on screen than about big reveals. The script never draws attention to that dynamic, but constantly plays with the viewer’s sympathy. It quietly asks questions and urges the audience to defend their assumptions at every turn. Is Tess in danger because of Keith? Are they both in danger from the house? If so, whose fault is that? Does it matter if you think they are good people? Is your gender view of the world distorting your perception?
Barbarian‘s visual simplicity gives the mind the freedom to wander. The Airbnb home where Tess and Keith are located is dingy and dimly lit. With a little grace and imagination, the house doesn’t even look that bad – but why would someone watching a horror movie be so graceful? Especially when presented with the familiar iconography it hides, from a seemingly endless dark tunnel to a room that looks like something terrible happened there.
These are well-known images, and Barbarian uses them as fuel for speculation that fills the first viewing with fear, and orients further viewings around the characters. While Tess, Keith and the few others they encounter are archetypal, they are not a blank slate in a nondescript nightmare city. They’re characters who visit Detroit for a reason, and that city’s history—and its late-20th-century turn into decline, when it was abandoned by a wealthy white community that could no longer fit it into their idyllic middle-class vision. — is an unspoken weight on the film and its horror. Like Skarsgård and Campbell, who deftly convey silent shifts in the energy of a scene with the tiniest facial expressions, Cregger’s camera reminds viewers Barbarian‘s setting with small, careful shifts, gesturing to the whole place by carefully examining a narrow slice.
This is true Barbarian transcends its secrets. Twisty stories are hard to calibrate; Knowing that a movie has one or more left turns can create expectations, which are often more rooted in what a particular viewer wants, not the storytellers’ ultimate goals. BarbarianFortunately, the shifts are more subtle and scarier. As the film sinks deeper into the house it starts in, its best trick is one of the oldest in cinema. Cregger makes sure that the biggest fears are in your head, and in what you might learn about where your sympathies ultimately lie.
Barbarian debuts in theaters on September 9.