Equal parts beguiling and horrific, Barbarian is best experienced without spoilers from the fans and critics who are raving about this film. The basic premise is that a woman named Tess (Georgina Campbell) arrives a day early in Detroit for a big job interview. Upon arriving at her Air B&B, she finds that it’s in a very sketchy neighborhood. To further complicate matters, the house is already inhabited by a stranger named Keith (Bill Skarsgard). Keith claims to have booked it himself and invites Tess inside because of the bad reputation of the neighborhood… foreshadowing at its finest.
After investigating other housing options, Tess reluctantly decides to stay overnight with Keith and the pair seem to hit it off, despite the odd circumstances. It’s at this moment that the film begins to take flight, and boy does it soar.
Writer/director Zach Cregger (a standout of the sketch comedy troupe The Whitest Kids You Know) willfully plays with his captive audience while executing his vision of what a low budget horror film can accomplish. Cregger teases taking the film into well-known horror cliché territory, but quickly flips audience expectations with inventive choices.
Cregger is more than adept at delivering clever thrills and scares while maintaining a consistent electricity in every frame of this film. Barbarian is an entertaining, nerve-wracking ride that should have strong legs at the box office. Fronting most of the film’s press is actor Justin Long, who appears late in the film as one of Hollywood’s “fallen” AKA “cancelled” talents returning to his Detroit home.
Cregger weaves in a commentary on many social topics within his horror spectacle, proving that he is more than capable of crafting complex narratives amid his clever scare choices with a razor thin budget. Having shot in Bulgaria, Cregger somehow captured a dark, grim version of Detroit. It’s a distinct pleasure to highlight a rising talent like Cregger, and one wonders what he could accomplish with a Jordan-Peele-sized budget in the near future.
Letter Grade: B-