Barbarian (Review)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Zach Cregger
Starring: Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long, Matthew Patrick Davis, Richard Brake

Certificate: 18
Run Time: 102 mins

Barbarian is the directorial debut of Zach Cregger, most famous for his acting career. This is a high-concept horror-thriller that packs plenty of satisfying surprises up its sleeve throughout its run time. 

The film opens with Tessa Marshall (Georgina Campbell) parking up at an AirBnB rental home in the outskirts of Detroit the night before a job interview. The house looks like the only furnished property on the street, with the rest of the community visibly well past its heyday. Strangely, she discovers a young man named Keith Toshko (Bill Skarsgård) is also at the house, claiming that he too is renting the property. 

Initially unnerved by Keith (who wouldn’t be after Skarsgård’s deranged portrayal of Pennywise in It?), Tess decides to try and find someplace else but he dissuades her from doing so, rightly criticising the state of local community. What impresses out of the gate is the fact Tess acts like a typical human, unlike in many other horror films where characters make baffling decisions to advance the story.  She duly asks to see Keith’s documents and identification and considers every decision twice. To reveal anymore of the plot would be to spoil the film, but needless to say, Cregger leaves you constantly guessing the narrative’s trajectory. Horror veteran Justin Long rounds out the cast as AJ Gilbride, a sitcom actor accused of raping a co-star.

Barbarian is an excellent horror-thriller and a barnstorming debut from Cregger. This is a taut, claustrophobic and mostly satisfying piece that had me hooked throughout. It runs out of steam a little in its last ten minutes, where the ending is not quite as subversive as the rest of the film and Cregger feels the need to overexplain a little too much. However, this is forgivable considering how reserved the rest of the film is at showing its hand. Cregger balances the horror elements with pepperings of comedy, a notable highlight being Justin Long bringing a new meaning to measuring the square footage of a property. Barbarian is further elevated by its rich exploration of social commentary too, with plenty to say on the state of America, gender and race. 

The performances are uniformly excellent, with Campbell proving a domineering yet sympathetic lead – we want her to survive whatever it she is getting herself into. Campbell is surely destined for future greatness. Cregger plays on Skarsgard’s creepiness and we’re not sure whether he can be trusted or not and Long’s over-the-top horror shtick offers a biting and satirical edge. 

There’s a great score by Anne Dubilich too, full of foreboding and portentous cues and the film is very well shot by Zach Kuperstein. Kuperstein’s camera peers around corners and corridors, keeping us in the dark shadows as much as Cregger withholds information to the last moment.

Barbarian joins the club in 2022 as another excellent horror film with films such as The Black Phone, X and Nope. It’s a terrific debut from Cregger and I can’t wait to see what he does next. Barbarian is one of a few films I can remember recently that has gripped me throughout and it will be interesting to pick up on the smaller details on subsequent rewatches.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

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