Barbarian is best if you go in cold, so [SPOILER ALERT] people!
The midnight movie is a very special type of film. Even though it might be a little schlocky, the movie has this shockingly clever, deep reservoir of themes and movie moments, and usually experiments in storytelling in some way. This is my nice way of saying I look forward to midnight screenings of Barbarian for the next several decades, as it gains all sorts of followers and pulls Justin Long out of the Kevin Smith vortex he’s been in.
Before Long enters the picture though, we first meet Tess (Georginia Campbell), creepily driving up to an AirBnB in the creepy part of Detroit late at night. However, the key is missing, customer service cannot help, and its pouring rain. As she returns to her car, the lights go on, and a strange man (Bill Skarsgard) opens the door. Tess is obviously very wary of entering a strange place with a strange man, but after exhausting her options, she has nowhere else to go. Except, maybe retreat to the strange AirBnB basement that, just, keeps on going, and NOT in a good way.
Writer/director Zach Cregger eases us into what the audience thinks will be the movie: AirBnB gone wrong. Georgina Campbell and Bill Skarsgard are excellent setting up this unnerving, I guess meet cute? The nighttime interactions drip with tension as the audience hopes Tess hasn’t walked into just a nightmare of a situation with this strange man she’s forced to share a rental with. Even as the situation deescalates, Cregger throws an unlocked door or a strange noise that immediately sets Tess’s (and by proxy, the audience’s) hair on edge as we fear the worst. But Cregger knows the beats of a movie like this, and swerves into the next morning, which brings about a host of new, unexpected terrors that put the night before in a new perspective as to what the real threat here is. Cregger then takes Tess and the disoriented audience down a strange, dark basement rabbit hole, increasing the tension little by little, until the movie hits a giant horrifying climax.
And BAM! Enter Justin Long and a new story thread. Though not as revolutionary as Psycho was, Cregger gets the elicited response he wants by unmooring the story and reentering it from a different perspective. Long is having a blast playing a complete sh*t heel, the opposite of Tess’s character, giving the tensed up audience a nice moment of respite to mock this male cesspool of a human. His reaction to the basement nicely ties together with the themes Cregger is trying to pull off, and brilliantly zags when the audience is expecting Barbarian to zig. With all the pieces in place, Cregger then unleashes an amazing barrage of perspective shifts in the final 30 minutes, completely resetting character expectations sometimes minutes after we think we’ve figured it out, while also scaring the bejesus out of everyone with totally creepy images and haunting visions of pure evil and its consequences. The final 15 minutes is where Cregger shines best: finding a perfect mixture of that midnight movie pitch black comedy with eerie abhorrent but beautiful horror images.
In the doldrums of back to school movie malaise, studios are usually dumping stuff they don’t think is good. Occasionally though, you get a movie like Barbarian, coming to theatres with low expectations and completely blowing them out of the water. God bless the horror genre, always taking risks and bringing us new acting talent or resurrecting forgotten talent like my guy Justin Long. If you haven’t seen Accepted yet, please just do yourself a favor and have a blast watching Long lead a bunch of awesome actors elevated a stupid, pointless premise with constant, wonderful jokes. ASK ME ABOUT MY WEINER!