I never thought a year ago I would like over two horror movies in 2022. Of course, I knew I would love Scream, but we also got X and The Black Phone as significant standouts. But Barbarian enters the competitions out of nowhere, and I’m pretty sure not everybody has heard of this latest thriller. This is a movie that I didn’t what to know any in-depth details about since I only watched the trailer and didn’t watch or read any other reviews until I did. How anyone went into this without watching the trailer is shocking. A week after the trailer was released, the biggest surprise for me was learning Zach Cregger wrote and directed this. You mean the same Zach Cregger from the underrated sketch comedy show The Whitest Kids U’ Know? That’s the one. After co-writing and directing 2009’s Miss March with his pal, the late Trevor Moore, this marks his solo directorial feature.
At first, I thought about waiting to rent this in a month, but everybody’s been talking about it lately to where I’ll see for myself if this is good. And when an original horror movie gets under my skin in a good way, that’s an unexpected winner worth remembering for the rest of the year.
Tess Marshall (Georgina Campbell) is in Detroit for a job interview, where she learns the remote Airbnb home she rented in a rundown neighborhood is already double-booked by Keith (Bill Skarsgård). He invites her to come inside instead of the dark, pouring rain. With no hotels available, Keith insists on having Tess spend the night in the house, where he invites her to take the bedroom and he’ll sleep on the couch. And that’s all I’m going to mention plot-wise.
I got to hand it to the marketing team behind the film because they did a great job of not spoiling anything from a trailer that never scratches the surface. Barbarian is one of the most insane films I’ve paid to see where. I had no clue where it was going inside this house in its entire runtime. Just when I knew what was coming, I was wrong. Cregger made the movie equivalent of going into a haunted house or a rollercoaster ride with a blindfold on, knowing something terrifying might occur. He had this idea inspired by how red flags are everywhere and tried his hardest not to make it predictable. Now I don’t know what was going on in his mind when he had this idea, but it was an intended throwback to the genre in the ’70s.
And the essential patience builds up great moments of tension that genuinely made me afraid to ever go down into a creepy basement. And it also ruined Airbnbs for everybody. But did I know what would happen? Not even the slightest, and that’s a good thing when everything ties together in the end. The best kind of movie we’re seeing today (just like with Malignant) has the story shift tones in a different direction that keeps you on your toes to wondering how it’ll pay off, and it kept me thinking how well-executed Cregger pulled not to make this your standard, generic horror.
This has a limited cast of three actors, basically, and they were all great. Georgina Campbell (who reminds me of a young Halle Berry) is someone I wasn’t familiar with, but she’s excellent. Just like her, we’re not sure if we can trust a total stranger like Keith despite being a nice guy and also not knowing what the hell is going on in this situation. She is definitely the standout of the film, and I seriously hope we see more work from Campbell after this. The scenes with her and the awkwardly charming Bill Skarsgård in the first half made me like their characters as they keep each other company, getting to know what brought them here in a meet-cute type of fashion. And I knew Justin Long was in this from the brief glimpse of him in the trailer, but this might be one of my favorite performances he has ever given. All I can say is that his character AJ is a total douche that roped into the plot.
And I was the only person in the theater, which was not what I expected for a movie that was number one during its opening weekend. But that might’ve been because I saw it at 3:30 on a Friday. That said, even without watching it with a crowd, that allowed me to have a couple of audible reactions that genuinely scared me unexpectedly. Barbarian legit frightened me and did a great at balancing the disturbing/ suspenseful scenes with its atmospheric tension stylistic choices that reminded me of Sam Raimi’s approach to the genre and having little comedic beats into the next scene. A few times, I nervously laughed while looking away at the screen. There’s something about comedians who take on directing, and their first solo feature is in the horror genre, with Cregger in this and Jordan Peele with Get Out. And similar to Fresh earlier this year, it’s going to be very hard to describe what this movie is to everyone since it would be the best for them to go into this cold as possible.
If there were any issues I took from this, it has characters making pretty dumb choices at the worst time I couldn’t believe. And there were these police officers that actually annoyed me because they just seemed lazy at their job. Since most 20th Century Studios movies get released through Hulu recently, I’m glad they risked this by putting it in theaters since it’s tailored made to get the best reactions out of everybody. Of course, the general audiences will be 100% not onboard (just check the Cinema Score). Also, probably the strangest double feature I pulled after seeing The Woman King. But whatever Cregger has in mind for his next project, I’m putting my money down to see it.
Barbarian is one of the craziest, most unpredictable horror movies I’ve seen in quite some time. Bravo to Cregger for taking me on a tense and darkly comedic ride that constantly played with my expectations. A total surprise for me walking out of the theater where I had my mouth open for an entertaining experience that came out of nowhere.
Barbarian is now playing in theaters. Runtime: 102 Minutes. Rated R for some strong violence and gore, disturbing material, language throughout and nudity. Studio: 20th Century Studios.