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Barbarian Is the Surprise Movie of the Year

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Barbarian Is the Surprise Movie of the Year

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James Jay Edwards reviews Barbarian, a horror film written and directed by Zach Cregger, and starring Georgina Campbell and Bill Skarsgård. (20th Century Studios

As of late, the internet has been packed with nightmare Airbnb stories, whether they’re about rentals not being as advertised or about owners leaving lists of chores for their tenants. But none of these nightmares compare to the one that writer/director Zach Cregger (best known from The Whitest Kids U’ Know) has created with his new film Barbarian.

(Barbarian, theatrical release poster, courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

Barbarian is about a young woman named Tess (Georgina Campbell from Suspicion) who travels to Detroit for a job interview. She books an Airbnb, but when she arrives, she finds that it has been double-booked and is already occupied by a young man named Keith (Bill Skarsgård from IT).

And that’s really all you should know about Barbarian going into it. Don’t read more of a synopsis, don’t watch a trailer, don’t even look at a cast list on IMDB. Just go in blind.

(Barbarian, courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

With Barbarian, Zach Cregger takes the audience on a twisting, turning journey that switches gears at the drop of a hat. Just when you think you have the movie figured out, it changes, and you can almost hear Cregger laughing and saying, “Nope, not that.” It is a wild ride.

At first, it seems like Barbarian is just going to be a simple, contained thriller. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, the beginning of the roller coaster ride. It goes from what seems like a game of mental chess between two people stuck in an inconvenient situation to some dark and disturbing places. From a psychological thriller to a brutally visceral horror flick.

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With recent successful films from artists who are usually known as comedians such as Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us, Nope) and John Krasinski (A Quiet Place, A Quiet Place Part II), the public is starting to realize the similarities between comic timing and scary timing. Zach Cregger is adding to that thesis with Barbarian. Cregger has mastered the buildup, the payoff, and the release that make both comedy and horror effective.

Make no mistake, though, Barbarian is a horror movie through and through; from the dark and moody cinematography of Zach Kuperstein (The Eyes of My Mother, The Vigil) to the terrifically retro-synth-y score from Anna Drubich (Werewolves Within, Fear Street: Part One and Part Three). The visual effects are gross and gooey, and the performances from Campbell, Skarsgård, and (later on) Justin Long (Tusk, Jeepers Creepers) are perfectly scream-y. The little bits of comedy are tension breakers. Barbarian was made to scare the pants off of people.

(Barbarian, courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

Despite the relative economy of the movie, the character arcs are fairly well developed (and there are more than just Tess and Keith, but NO SPOILERS). Even the smaller bit players are fleshed out enough to seem real (Skarsgård’s Keith is the exception, and he seems to be kept purposefully mysterious). Georgina Campbell is the anchor, though. Her Tess is the character with whom the audience relates, so, even through her misguided judgements and poor decisions, the viewer is on her side. If Barbarian was a traditional horror movie, she’d be the Final Girl. Except Barbarian isn’t a traditional horror movie, and Tess demonstrates a vulnerability, mostly self-inflicted, that makes her survival seem impossible.

Whatever kind of movie you may think Barbarian is, you’re most likely wrong. And that’s the fun of it. It keeps the viewer guessing for its entire run time. Go into it with no expectations, because it won’t be what you’re expecting anyway. It’s the surprise movie of the year.

And think twice about renting that Airbnb.

Barbarian is now playing in theaters everywhere.


Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.


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James Jay Edwards

James Jay Edwards is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and is the current President of the San Diego Film Critics Society. He sees dead people, can handle the truth, and knows that Han shot first.

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