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  • Nate Adams

'Barbarian' review: Ingenious (and totally bonkers) horror flick goes to unexpected places

Courtesy of 20th Century Studios


There are strange things happening all over Zach Cregger’s nuts and completely bonkers riff on the midnight horror genre in “Barbarian,” a movie destined to become a cult hit talked about among inner circles for the next decade. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that a member of the notoriously off-the-cuff sketch comedy crew “The Whitest Kids U’Know” came up with the ideas and revelations showcased throughout this crafty little horror thriller where, if you’re watching with the right crowd, you should be hootering, hollering, and gasping all in unison. Cregger has developed an intriguing puzzle box that’s roped into one stylized and endlessly fascinating package. The longer Cregger leaves our subconscious to pick apart where exactly this ship is headed, the more unnerving his film becomes. 

Nothing could prepare you, of course, for where it does lead. The story opens in the middle of a thunderstorm around an inner suburb of Detroit (shout-out Michiganders!). Tess (Georgina Campbell) has arrived in town for the job interview of a lifetime and the Airbnb is double booked with a random occupant: a tall, gangly dude named Keith (Bill Skarsgård, bringing the same amount of unease as he did in the two “IT” installments playing Pennywise). Accommodations in the area are scarce and, naturally, the owners can’t be reached, forcing Tess and Keith to improvise and shack up under the same roof for the night. Luckily, they bond over mutual interests, chug some wine, and go to bed. 

The next morning, however, where Tess can see the neighborhood she’s staying at in broad daylight, it changes her mood and perspective. Hell, even her potential employer reacts shockingly when she finds out. Something ain’t right. And when Tess goes back to grab her things, she inadvertently stumbles into a deep and dark basement corridor where a horrific and wild secret is waiting for her discovery. To say any more, dear reader, would hinder the film’s greatest strength which the marketing has done a solid job at keeping close to the vest. It’s a movie you’ll want to catch with a group of friends either on the big screen or at a slumber party. Preferably after 11pm with, maybe, a couple of drinks in you. Whatever the case, when you do find out what gleeful madness awaits in the cellar, there are many responses one could channel: anger, laughter, cheering, or booing. And all of those would be correct. 

“Barbarian” would be an incredible achievement on any horror director’s resume, but Cregger, who’s biggest directorial effort up to this point was the little seen “Miss March,” shows complete control and swagger in regards to setting up the audiences for the crazy final act. It’ll make you wince as if you’re going on a choose your own adventure journey where an endless array of theories are constantly swirling. 

Mad props to Campbell for going along for the ride, and Justin Long who gives one of the best performances of his career (to say what his role is would ruin some of the surprise). “Barbarian” is a smart and terrifying flick peppered with a healthy dose of satire and self-awareness. Best bet would be going in knowing as minimal as possible and seeing just how far the rabbit, er, basement hole goes. 

Grade: B+ 

BARBARIAN is now playing in theaters.   


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