In 2007, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez hired an aspiring genre filmmaker, Edgar Wright, to make a parody trailer for a fake movie to be set between their “Grindhouse” double feature. Wright came up with “Don’t,” in which a hoarse voice intones, “If you’re thinking of going into this house, don’t.” If you are thinking of opening that door – don’t! If you’re thinking of checking the basement – don’t do it!” It was funny because it was recognizable and appealed to the audience’s urge to yell at the screen, “Don’t go in there!”
That’s essentially the plot of Zach Cregger’s Barbarian, about which the less you know, the better you know. Consider this permission to read this review immediately and just buy tickets. Don’t watch trailers, don’t read reviews, go straight to the cinema to see one of the year’s most brilliant, perceptive and scary horror movies.
How can you describe “Barbarian” without giving away the best twists? Well, it’s a triumph of what could be a new subgenre: Airbnb horror. It begins on a dark and rainy night when a young woman named Tess (Georgina Campbell) tries to gain access to a locker in the Detroit rental apartment she booked for a job interview the next day. A light inside comes on. someone else is home
In a plot twist that demonstrates the dangers of outsourcing property management to anonymous tech companies, it turns out the house has been double-booked and Keith (Bill Skarsgård) has already moved in. Despite her best instincts – like most modern, independent women, Tess is very vigilant – running out of options, she decides to crash in the house with him while things are sorted out.
This is the first horror film for Cregger, who is one of the founding members of the sketch comedy troupe Whitest Kids U’Know, but it’s clear that he’s a fan and student of the genre and has mastered it with Tone and Terror, an exciting new one Horror filmmakers on the rise. He has a knack for flipping expectations, so he gives us a horror heroine who’s smarter than the average scream queen, and he gives us a mysterious loner (who previously played a famous horror monster in It) who actually is could be a nice guy.
In the course of the film, the process of establishing and reversing expectations takes place again and again. Cregger slowly builds chilling and suspenseful sequences into screechingly operatic moments of face-melting horror, then quickly switches to another chapter, takes a sharp left turn into an entirely different mode, and takes us all on a roller coaster ride. His ability with comedy also helps with those jarring changes of tone, and “Barbarian” is as funny as it is terrifying.
Tess and Keith fumble through the awkwardness of their Airbnb mix-up, but the film expands its scope to include the home’s other residents and owners over the decades. Cregger traces the journey of the suburban home through time, the middle-class neighborhood that succumbed to white flight and eventual abandonment and was eventually snapped up as a cheap flip for the short-term rental market. The rumors of what’s happening in this house are known only to locals, underscoring the dangers of an eroded community ravaged by exploitative capitalism and creating the perfect anonymous environment to lure unsuspecting, tech-savvy millennials to their undoing.
Cregger also uses “Barbarian” to examine women as victims, villains, and victors within the horror genre and the ways in which empathy both endangers and empowers them. Deeply caring Tess is a perfect victim, but she’s also very smart, and her soft skills and ability to read others are the most effective powers in fighting the evil she encounters. Campbell’s performance is perfectly calibrated, and Cregger impressively demonstrates that it’s Tess’ emotional intelligence that gives her a chance.
Inspired by classic horror films and tropes, Cregger packs this multi-layered contemporary social commentary into a gripping, thoroughly terrifying flick. It’s the throwback appeal, coupled with fresh ideas – and plenty of skull-jarring horrors – that make this such an exciting new film and one of those must-see horror movies.
Valuation: R, for some heavy violence and gore, disturbing footage, consistent language, and nudity
Duration: 1 hour, 43 minutes
To play: Launches September 9th in general release
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-09-07/barbarian-review-horror ‘Barbarian’ review: Don’t spoil this must-see horror movie