Synopsis: A woman staying at an Airbnb discovers that the house she has rented is not what it seems.
Stars: Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long, Matthew Patrick Davis, Richard Brake, Jaymes Butler, Kurt Braunohler
Director: Zach Cregger
Running Length: 102 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: There’s a clever bit of marketing surrounding the release of the new horror film Barbarian. Along with the traditional trailer that blessedly gives away precious little, 20th Century Studios is also running a robust digital campaign. Ads showing preview audiences watching the film and reacting are nothing new regarding reeling in interested viewers, but this pushes hard on the shock and awe that await. It’s a bold strategy because if the movie doesn’t deliver, then there’s lost trust between the studio and ticket-holders that Hollywood can’t buy back in the future. Lucky for Barbarian’s filmmakers and even more fortunate for us, writer/director Zach Cregger has gifted brave viewers an Energizer Bunny of nail-gnashing scares. Just when you think its best hand has been played, the real terror begins.
Creeger’s film could easily start with a title card reading, “It was a dark and stormy night,” because that’s the first thing we see as a car pulls up in the rain in front of an innocuous house. Tess (Georgina Campbell, All My Friends Hate Me) ignores calls from someone named Marcus as she goes over the details of accessing her Airbnb. There’s trouble, though. When she tries to get her key from the lockbox, it’s missing. Noticing a light inside, she knocks until Keith (Bill Skarsgård, Eternals) opens the door. It appears they’ve both booked the rental home through different services, and after awkward interplay that graduates into friendly introductions, it’s decided Tess will sleep in the bedroom while Keith will take the couch. They’ll figure things out the next day.
Oh, but I wish I could tell you more than that! I would like to expand on why Tess is in town and analyze why she doesn’t heed many warning signs to find new lodging the next day. I want to get into what the neighborhood looks like in the bright sunlight after the rain stops and what Tess finds when she hunts for more toilet paper in the basement. I’d really like to get into Justin Long’s character and how he fits into the story, not to mention discuss why he’s visiting the city and the same pristine house Tess and Keith got double booked into. Mostly, I’m intrigued to find out your thoughts about a flashback that explains a lot while saying little. I won’t say anything, though, because to spoil absolutely any of Creeger’s ingenious surprises and stunners would shortchange you of an extremely scary (and satisfying) freak out.
Do me a favor, and trust me when I say that knowing too much about Barbarian going in will dim its bright light just a little bit. Having seen it, I confidently feel it has substantial replay value and look forward to watching it again. There’s no getting back that first watch, and you’ll be grateful to let things play out on their own without waiting for the expected to happen. The marketing team involved with Barbarian has kindly kept a solid lid on the proceedings, and while the trailer may have hinted at what’s going on, it’s withheld more than it’s shown.
Still an actor as he begins to dip his toe into directing, Creeger has enlisted a strong cast as well as friends and family (like wife Sara Paxton) to fill out voice-over roles. Campbell, Skarsgård, and especially Long (Lady of the Manor) are all incredibly game to play along with Creeger’s twisted turns, and the film works as well as it does because this trio takes it so seriously. The cast could have played elements of the third act toward one extreme, but thankfully the actors handle it with the right amount of intensity, so it doesn’t go over the top. Between this and the upcoming House of Darkness, Long is on a roll, playing a particular kind of doggedly caddish character you start to root for even when you know you shouldn’t. As in 2021’s Wildcat, Campbell knows how to work with unflappable female characters, breaking through any coldness around their edges and finding their warmth.
It’s not a spoiler to say that Barbarian is front-loaded with enough material where you could see options open for further films should the movie become a hit. Beginning, ending, tangential side-to-side, Creeger has wisely written his movie to be a bit amorphous so that it can stand on its own but could easily be pulled into another direction should the studio want more. If they’re as briskly paced and razor-sharp as this film, I’ll gladly book another stay at this horror home.