The trailer for Barbarian is a good one. It looks like a barebones, hard-edged, gritty, urban horror – the kind that almost works as a cautionary tale, the kind that will get under your skin and truly terrify you. In other words – my kind of movie!
That was what I wanted; but that wasn’t what I got.
Instead, this film is equal parts creeping dread and intrigue, and equal parts almost grotesque horror comedy.
We start with the story most featured in the trailer – a double-booked Airbnb home in a rundown and dangerous part of Detroit where a man and a woman have to spend an uneasy night in each other’s company; a creepy basement and an even more disturbing backstory.
Then the second act is about Justin Longs greasy ‘AJ’ character and how his wholly justified career meltdown leads him to that home in Detroit with all its secrets and hidden horrors.
It’s a fairly simple story, but how it plays out and the twists and turns along the way are its main strengths, so you’ll get no spoilers from me today.
Written and directed by Zach Cregger in his first film since 2009, and in his horror genre debut, this will be a name to watch in the future. Cregger’s fresh voice in a genre that can be known to self-canibalise, is a welcome one; and even if this wasn’t as entirely successful as I had wanted, its only because my expectations had led me to want a different kind of film, not because this one failed in any way.
The performances, particularly from our trio of leads – Bill Skarsgard who manages to be both creepy and sympathetic, Justin Long in a welcome return to form, and Georgina Campbell in a surely exhausting role – are all impressive here.
The effects work well, the atmosphere is palpable, the comedy is well-earned and it manages to throw in a few surprises along the way; but for me, the explanation of what’s happening doesn’t quite ring true and steps perhaps too far into ridiculous for me to accept.
My real issue was in the fact that so many characters made stupid decisions; not just poor ones, but idiotic ones, and that immediately makes the audience distance themselves from engagement as they know now it wouldn’t happen to them. My other gripe is with the lack of care shown to actually answering some rather glaring questions. If only they’d taken time to insert a few scenes that fleshed out why a character may have jumped from one conclusion or decision to the next, those things may not have been so irksome. This is where the filmmakers lack of experience and clear over-enthusiasm to get to the next bit because he’s dying to share it with you, is most evident.
Not exactly what I wanted, but this is outrageous and creepy and silly and unpredictable – a fun night is assured. Just try to see it with a responsive audience. I swear, the yells and screams and claps and laughs absolutely added to my enjoyment of this nutso movie. My favourite bit? When, after AJ does something particularly noxious, a lady in my audience loudly declared “what a cunt!”
She was not wrong.