Film Review: Barbarian

By Matthew Moorcroft

Strong Recommendation

  • Directed by Zach Cregger
  • Starring Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgard, Justin Long, Matthew Patrick Davis
  • R

Ever seen a director go full sicko mode from the start? That’s exactly what Zach Cregger does in his horror debut – though considering his pedigree it’s not surprising. One of the masterminds behind The Whitest Kids U’ Know, Cregger and his fellow band of misfits have made it their mission to push the line of good taste – if there ever was a line with them to begin with. Their comedy is excellent, if not for everybody, and the same will immediately be said for Barbarian, which despite going head first into horror, is fully in line with Cregger’s sensibilities and feels almost like a serious version of one of his sketches.

And it almost certainly isn’t for everybody. From it’s gnarly, grisly violence to absurdly morbid premise, this is a wild ride for horror junkies, easily going from a tense, taught thriller in a single location to a full on escape flick to a last minute slasher chase. Lots of comparisons are going to be made to Malignant from last year, and while it certainly has the same level of unpredictability as that film, it’s on a different wavelength in terms of what it’s trying to do. While Malignant was nutty and apeshit, Barbarian is a slower facemelter, mostly relying on excellently executed plot twists and unexpected left turns. You really, honestly, do not know where this movie is going, and each major development in the story makes everything more unpredictable as time goes on.

The cast is entirely game for this, as per expected. Georgina Campbell is great here, playing a smarter lead for a good chunk of this though where her character ends up is equally as unexpected. Bill Skarsgard is very likable despite Cregger’s conscious attempts to have as many red flags around him as possible, though I like how unassuming he ends up actually being in the grand scheme of things. The real highlight though turns out to be Justin Long, whose role is best not spoiled here. Just know that his turn is deliciously slimey, and brings some darkly comedic material to an otherwise potentially alienating character – you are supposed to hate this guy, so let’s laugh at him!

Cregger shows supreme skill behind the camera though. While this isn’t his first rodeo – he’s done a smaller, not well received comedy as well as a lot of the Whitest Kids U’ Know sketches – but this is the first time we’ve really gotten to see him flex his directorial muscles in this way. Much of that is due to the way he makes sure the entire house, at least prior to the reveals, is telegraphed to you and laid out as succinctly as possible. So that when the doors do start opening, and the reveals start coming, they are genuine shockers as opposed to obvious inferences. In fact, while the initial basement reveal is already stellar if telegraphed, it’s in reality only part one of a baller four part reveal that’s nothing short of excellent as it just builds and builds and builds.

And when the climax of the movie does come, it’s some genuinely thrilling stuff. A lot of the actual gore is hidden which is probably the only real “nitpick” I have here but the actual content is still gruesome and suitably nasty. The revelation of what’s actually going also, rather shockingly, ties into the rest of the movie thematically nicely. There is some stuff here about men in power and how they consistently manipulate events to their liking, asking the audience who the real “barbarian” of the story actually is. It’s mostly in the background, but it’s clear enough thought went into the actual narrative meat of this that it’s more then just a killer, gnarly time.

Which it absolutely is as well. Barbarian is best seen with a loud crowd, one that reacts to every major reveal and death with a fury, as it will be a riot to behold. And if this proves anything as well, it’s that Zach Cregger should really make more horror, cause he’s damn good at it.

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