Tis the season for horror films and there are plenty of new titles to choose from, both in the cinemas and on the streaming services, but there’s one that’s making noise for all the right reasons. Written and directed by Zach Cregger in his first solo effort behind the camera, BARBARIAN takes many of the usual tropes and subverts them in ways that will delight even the most ardent fans of the horror genre.
The less you know about the story going in, the better, so I’m going to be very brief. Tess Marshall (Georgina Campbell, KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD; TV’s SUSPICION and KRYPTON) comes to Detroit for a job interview and she books an Airbnb rental in the derelict neighbourhood of Brightmoor for her stay. When she arrives at the house, she discovers that another company has already rented the house out to Keith Toshko (Bill Skarsgård, the IT films). As it’s very late and there’s nowhere else for Tess to go, she accepts Keith’s offer to share the house with him for that night. The next morning after Tess returns from her interview to collect her things, she accidently gets locked in the house’s basement. Though Keith comes to get her out, she discovers a corridor hidden behind one of the basement walls. Sometime later, sitcom actor AJ Gilbride (Justin Long, TV’s ED) learns that he’s been accused of raping his co-star and is fired from his show. Forced to come up with funds to pay for his legal expenses, he heads to Detroit to sell the property he owns there – the same house that Tess and Keith had rented. While there, he, too, discovers the hidden corridor he never knew was there before.
Just when you think you know where BARBARIAN is going, Cregger pulls out a surprise twist that takes the narrative in a whole new direction. At first, you’re going to think, “Who rents a whole house for a job interview… in a horrible part of town, no less… and then agrees to share it with a stranger?” And then the story shifts location to Los Angeles and you’ll think, “Am I watching the same movie?” Then the time shifts and you’ll think, “What is GOING ON???” Cregger masterly weaves three seemingly disparate arcs together into one narrative and it all makes sense by the time the film reaches its third act. Cregger has clearly been influenced by Jordan Peele (GET OUT; US) and one scene even gives a humorous wink to Peele’s latest film, NOPE. Although Cregger does make reference to a couple contemporary hot button issues, BARBARIAN doesn’t have the same social consciousness that Peele’s films do, not that it matters. It’s just a whole lot of fun.
Performances by Campbell, Skarsgård and Long are all on point. Long, who does mostly TV voice work and low budget indie films these days, is such a comedic treasure that it’s a shame we don’t see him on screen more often.
BARBARIAN is available now on Disney+ and HBO Max. Check it out tonight after the kids have gone trick or treating, or whenever you’re in the mood for a well-made scary movie. BARBARIAN is one helluva joyride.
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