Barbarian is the story of a survivor. It is also the story of a mother, an abuser, a victim, and a haunted house; a commentary on capitalism, sharing economy, gentrification, greed, gender politics, Trickle-down economics, motherhood, and abuse. The one thing it is not: a conventional horror film.
The best thing you can do for the cinephile in you is to pause reading this review and start watching the film right now; the less you know about it, the better the experience is going to be.
Tess Marshall (Georgina Campbell) is on a short trip to Detroit to interview for a job and falls victim to being double-booked in an Airbnb along with Keith (Bill Skarsgård of ITfame) who resembles the character of Norman Bates in the opening sequences. After a conversation over a glass of wine, the duo agrees to spend the night in two separate rooms of this (seemingly) habitable house in the neighbourhood. Things take a turn for the worse the following day when Tess runs out of toilet paper and goes snooping into the basement (bidets are lifesavers, in this case, literally). Curiosity gets the better of her and she’s soon exploring the abandoned basement which seems to have a mind of its own. Soon, she’s joined by Keith and AJ Gilbride (Justin Long) in her misadventures bordering on the supernatural.
Georgina Campbell as Tess shines in the dark basement and will get you rooting for her, albeit her foolhardy way of going about things in a horror film of all places. The cast fit into their characters perfectly(chef’s kiss).
The use of familiar horror film tropes, turning them on their head, and re-inventing the format of storytelling for the screen makes the experience of watching the film exciting and inspiring, even.
Zach Cregger’s freestyle, yet deceptive and tense screenplay keeps the audience on the edge of their seat and at no point in the film are we made to feel confident in our theories or predictions. The switch from the first act to the second is definitely the film at its strongest. The tone of humour, throughout the film, while evoking a giggle, acts as a catalyst to making the audience comfortable only to follow it with the most bizarre, unanticipated sequences imaginable.
Cregger understands that jump scares are every horror film aficionado’s worst nightmare and employs them with restraint. The sheer cinematic brilliance of the shots might leave you wanting more, for a change. He is masterful in the treatment of his male characters to tell a story about women; for a movie that barely passes the Bechdel test, this is a triumph.
If you’re still not convinced to give this film a chance, I’ll let the master of horror do the talking. Stephen King responding to a tweet enquiring whether he watched the film tweeted, “Yeah, that movie blew me away. It was crazy! Crazy GOOD!”
Barbarian is for everyone and no one in particular at the same time. It gives you the freedom to make a movie of your choice from the myriad storylines embossed in the film; you are at liberty to pick the barbarian of your choice and manufacture your own ghosts.
Barbarian is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar