Having just recently moved to a new home a week ago, I’m still getting to know my new surroundings. The new smells, unfamiliar layouts, and strangeness of it all is a common sensation during this breaking-in period. Of course, I’ve done a lot of exploring – nooks and crannies, attic closets, boiler rooms, all eliciting classic Hollywood horror tropes in the likes of The Shining, Evil Dead or The Haunting. Interestingly, writer/director Zach Cregger explores the idea of the mysterious dwelling (in this case, an Airbnb) in his new horror film Barbarian.
A young woman, Tess, comes to Detroit for an in-person job interview and books herself into a rental home in a very sketchy neighborhood. When she arrives, she finds out it’s been double-booked. Keith (Bill Skarsgârd), it turns out, is already occupying the home – he had booked himself using a different app. Keith politely invites her in so they can make some calls and fix the situation. However, the home’s managers cannot be reached. Tess attempts to book a hotel for the night but there are no vacancies. Out of options, Keith proposes she stay there (in a locked bedroom) and she accepts, noting the very run-down neighborhood and the lateness of the hour. The 2 converse with each other, and seemed to hit it off. Tess is cautious, locks her door, and goes to sleep.
That night, Tess discovers her door has been inexplicably opened and Keith is having a nightmare though still lying on the couch. She goes back to bed and locks her door again. The next day, Tess’ interview goes well. She goes back to the house. Looking for some toiletries, she makes her way towards the basement where she accidentally locks herself. Without her phone and in a slight panic, she discovers a hidden door…
Seemingly another overdone horror-thriller premise, Zach Cregger somehow manages to navigate around the usual genre clichés and gives us an engrossing, darkly funny thrill ride. Truly one of those films in which the less you know, the better the experience. Expertly shot (Zach Kupperstein), paced (edited by Joe Murphy), with great atmospheric music by Anna Drubich), Barbarian looks polished and succeeds in defying the predictability of most films of its ilk.
Justin Long (in my youth he was the Mac guy in those famous Apple vs PC commercials) provides a great comedic performance as actor/asshole AJ who owns the rental property. Georgina Campbell is believable as Tess and Bill is well…a Skarsgârd.
Barbarian is not a film to be over-analyzed or even talked too much about especially before viewing. Do yourself a favor and don’t read any reviews (even this one – oops, too late!) Stay away from Wikipedia and have some fun. While it won’t garner any highbrow award mentions, Cregger’s originality and the filmmakers’ craftsmanship make Barbarian a worthwhile popcorn spender. If it’s good enough for Arnon Milchan to invest in, that says something. For sure, another cult entry in the overcrowded world of horror flicks.
Review by Vince Caro