BARBARIAN l 20th Century Studios

There’s electricity in the air when people start referring to a new horror movie as extreme or labeling it as “the scariest movie” of the year. Bonus points are awarded if the film makes people walk out. For us horror fans, we see those statements far too often. What is horrific to mainstream audiences may not land the same way for die-hard horror fans. When I first started hearing about how intense Zach Cregger‘s debut film, BARBARIAN, was, it piqued my interest, but I wondered if it would live up to the reputation it was already receiving. Though BARBARIAN isn’t the most intense horror film I’ve seen this year, you better believe it’s one of the most memorable ones.

BARBARIAN is ninety minutes of unadulterated chaos and one of the biggest surprises of the year. Even after watching the trailer moments before seeing the film, there was no way I could have prepared myself for what was to come. A solid entry into the “AirBnB Horror” subgenre, BARBARIAN centers around Tess (Georgina Campbell) a young woman traveling to Detroit for a job interview. She books a rental home on the outskirts of Detroit but when she arrives late at night, she discovers that the house is double booked by a man named Keith (Bill Skarsgård). Since it’s so late and there’s a rain storm outside, Keith assures Tess that there’s nothing to worry and she begrudgingly decides to spend the evening there. However, she soon discovers that there’s a lot more to fear than just an unexpected house guest.

What I loved so much about BARBARIAN is that it’s fun and unexpected. It had jump scares, humor, misdirection, and more. It also focused on how so many of us tend to ignore red flags. We second guess ourselves when we get that tinge in our stomach that something is off. A situation where a woman finds herself alone with a strange man is scary enough, historically speaking. But what Cregger does is he pushes this concept to another level. He takes the viewer down an even darker path, one that you’ll never see coming.

Bringing this tale of horror to life is a small cast of very talented actors. Georgina Campbell (“Black Mirror”) plays Tess, a woman that I think many of us can relate to. Campbell plays her in a grounded, independent way. She’s a smart woman who has found herself in a precarious situation. This makes it all the more worse when shit begins to hit the proverbial fan. We, as the audience, may disagree with some of the decisions she makes throughout the course of the movie but let’s be real, a lot of us would probably take the same route as her if we found ourselves in a similar situation, if only out of curiosity.

Courtesy 20th Century Studios

Starring alongside Campbell is Bill Skarsgård (IT: Chapter 1 and 2) and Justin Long (Live Free or Die Hard) playing Keith and AJ, respectively. It would do all of you a grave disservice to reveal anything more than their surface-level aspects. Let’s just say, looks can be deceiving. And to that point, it’s another aspect of why this film is so unnerving. Both actors have a perception of them due to the roles they’ve taken on in the past. Bill Skarsgård is known for his terrifying turn as Pennywise in the updated IT films. Justin Long is known for his friendly smile and laid-back attitude. What Cregger does is he uses those aspects to his advantage. If there is one lesson to take away it would be that in this movie, men ain’t shit.

As far as the horror goes, Cregger pulls influences from horror greats such as Evil Dead, and I’d even go so far as to say The Descent mixed with REC. There’s also an element of humor that’s awkward but fits perfectly into the vibe of the film. This should come as no surprise to fans who are familiar with Cregger’s “The Whitest Kids U’Know.” I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the gore is extreme but moreso it’s comical yet disgustingly oozy. Whether it’s being forced fed from a bottle filled with the unimaginable or a head cracked open, there’s no shortage of violent acts that are bestowed upon these characters.

But in between the chaos and gore, there is a scene that brings the crux of the film to the surface. What appears to be an unassuming flashback about the origins of this house is far more than meets the eye. Drenched in pastel colors, joyful smiles, and set in the 1950s at a time when Detroit was booming, a chilling tale comes into focus. This is the strongest moment in the film – it’s subtle but we as the audience know the magnitude behind what’s going to occur. It’s here where Cregger really shines and I appreciate and respect how he was able to craft these particular moments without turning to gratuitous imagery.

BARBARIAN is an unforgettable film and, as I mentioned above, the most surprising film of the year. It has a sharp bite to it and will make the audience laugh just as much as it’ll make them shriek in disgust. The entire cast brings everything they have to their respective roles with a stand-out performance by Justin Long. Joining the ranks of other balls-to-the-wall horror films such as last year’s Malignant, BARBARIAN is set to become a cult classic within its horror subgenre. Whether you end up loving or hating the film, at the very least it’ll make you think twice about booking an AirBnB.

BARBARIAN arrives only in theaters September 9, 2022.

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