Barbarian (2022) **** – Seen at the Cinema

Slow-burn thriller geared more towards suspense than horror, turning on their heads most of the usual tropes and coming away with a fresh look at the genre.

Tess (Georgina Campbell), in Detroit for an interview as a movie researcher, turns up at  a rental only to find it already occupied by Keith (Bill Skarsgard). Cue various negotiations as she tries to find out if he’s for real and then work out a viable sharing concept – she gets the bedroom – and to some extent whether he is some skank hiding behind a handsome and charming veneer just lying in wait for a victim. This picture takes its time getting anywhere but not knowing just where it’s going only adds to the suspense. Eventually, they get to know each other enough for good vibes to kick in and there’s a moment where it could have gone all the way to sex.

Next morning she departs for her interview but not without noticing she is in one hell of an odd neighborhood. On her return, Keith is nowhere to be seen although his clothes are still there. When she investigates, down in the cellar finds a rope in a wall that reveals a tunnel and she hears him shouting. Having seen way too many horror movies she does the sensible thing  and leaves – nope, she does the next sensible thing and makes sure she can actually see where she’s going. And all this time of course you’re thinking – aha! This is what he wanted all along, he was a charming skank hiding behind a veneer, but still you don’t know where this picture is going because the director is damn good at suspense.

And once she does find out what’s going on we jump to another character, breezy actor AJ (Justin Long) belting along the highway belting out songs only to be given the bad news he is being accused of rape. Upshot is he turns up at the rental in Detroit because he’s the owner and now needs to sell it pronto so he’s absolutely delighted to discover it’s goes not just into a cellar but an extended basement that goes on and on because he’s measuring the shit out of it, just ignoring the stained mattress, camcorder and bloody handprint because, heck, the extra space could mean his property is worth a whole lot more which is ideal because he’s in for some hefty legal fees what with confessing to another dude that his accuser did in fact need some “convincing” before they had sex.

You don’t worry too much about AJ following in the footsteps of Tess because he’s mean, not in the John Wick fashion, but in the sneaky way that sneaky people have of never getting caught out. And he’s got a gun.

Naturally, there’s something a good bit meaner down there and there’s a hint that’s the reason the neighborhood is so rundown.

I’m not going to go into that aspect of the movie which in some respects is well done and in other respects not. And there’s a couple of character-driven twists that you won’t see coming and a great scene when police refuse to believe that a female running loose complaining of monsters is more likely to be a drug addict with monsters in her head rather than a genuine victim.

All in all one of the best horror films in a long while and precisely because it bends the rules without losing the shock value we come to expect from the genre. Prey for the Devil (2022) which I saw on the same day goes in more for the standard horror elements with considerably less effect and The Banshees of Inisherin, which I saw in between this pair, could have equally well been described as a horror picture, and although the bulk of the damage is self-inflicted seeing a fellow walking round with all his fingers sheared off but still with one complete hand left so he can chuck the digits at a door has all the trappings of horror.

Stick with Barbarian, a horror debut worth applauding from writer-director Zach Creggan (Miss March, 2009). He’s got the sense to let suspense build up by letting audiences do all the work, their expectation far more effective than his misdirection, and he allows his cast time to let their characters take root. Georgina Campbell (Wildcat, 2021) is an impressive lead and because the director doesn’t spend all his time putting her in situations where she can do nothing but scream she gets the chance to act. Bill Skarsgard (It, 2017) and Justin Long (House of Darkness, 2022) complete an interesting trio of performances. How rare to go to a horror picture and come away raving about the acting.

Author: Brian Hannan

I am a published author of books about film - over a dozen to my name, the latest being "When Women Ruled Hollywood." As the title of the blog suggests, this is a site devoted to movies of the 1960s but since I go to the movies twice a week - an old-fashioned double-bill of my own choosing - I might occasionally slip in a review of a contemporary picture.

7 thoughts on “Barbarian (2022) **** – Seen at the Cinema”

  1. I’ve heard good things about this too, so looking forward to the DVD.

    I love these ad campaigns where they try to connect the movie up to other successful films even in the most tangential ways. “From *a* producer of It and *an* executive producer of The Ring and The Grudge.” So what? Do they mean The Grudge 2004 or The Grudge 2020? The latter was a piece of crap and had seven executive producers. This movie had 16 production credits by my count. When was the last time it even mattered who produced a movie (whatever that means now)? The golden age?

    Anyway, got a laugh out of that.

    Liked by 1 person

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