REVIEW: Barbarian (2022)

Bill Skarsgård as the mysterious ‘Keith’ in BARBARIAN — PHOTO: 20th Century Studios.

Direction and Screenplay by Zach Cregger.

Zach Cregger’s Barbarian, one of the most entertaining surprise hits of the year, follows Tess Marshall (played by Georgina Campbell), as she arrives at a remote house that she has booked, only to find out that someone else, Keith (played by Bill Skarsgård), is already staying there due to the house having been double-booked. When Tess finds out that there isn’t really an open motel close by, she has to decide if she feels comfortable staying at the house with this total stranger. What she doesn’t know is that the house isn’t exactly what it seems.

Seldom have I seen a horror film that did such an excellent job of keeping me on my toes. Barbarian is the kind of film that is best first experienced without knowing all that much about it. And why is that? Well, precisely because certain actors play against type and because the film itself seems to flip the script once or twice. Right when you think you’ve got it figured out and that it will zig, it zags and throws you off its scent.

Cregger’s film features some really cool transitions, has a great number of surprises, is outright scary at times, and features some genuinely captivating performances. Bill Skarsgård has this perfectly tuned modern Norman Bates-esque energy that makes you think you have him exactly where you think you know everything about his intentions, whereas Justin Long’s character is equally surprising and modern. I think it is fair to say that Barbarian features both one of the most dislikeable characters in any film this year, as well as one of the characters that you feel the worst about being suspicious of.

And it is such a delightful film because it isn’t just full-on scary, it also has its tongue squarely in its cheek from time to time. One example is the way one character’s sudden but undramatic appearance includes the startling sound of a jump scare, but my favorite example has to be the scene in which one character decides — in the middle of a genuinely puzzling and unsettling situation — to measure the dimensions of what he is seeing. It’s hilarious and you have to see it to believe it. It plays around with the boundaries of the genre in a way that, to me, evoked both Sam Raimi and Wes Craven.

Some people will be upset about illogical character decision-making, but, honestly, I think incidents like the one I suggested in the former paragraph make up for this complaint. It feels somewhat intentional. I do think, however, that even though the way the story switches gears over and over again is exciting, the final act perhaps doesn’t exactly live up to these fun twists and turns (even though I do like the ending).

Zach Cregger’s Barbarian is one of the most surprising, and most original new horror films that I have frankly seen in years. It is a horror film that constantly stays a step ahead of you and which manages to be both genuinely scary and surprisingly genuinely funny. With so many tricks up its sleeves, it is sure to be a new cult classic, if not a full-on modern horror classic.

8.5 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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