Written and Directed by Zach Cregger
Starring Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long
The story told by Zach Cregger in the form of Barbarian is not entirely new. That matters less, of course, if there is a requisite skill in how the story is told. The effort to give the viewer different viewpoints, playing off our preconceptions, while pushing the destination further and further down into the depths of human depravity gives the viewer a feeling of desperation most horror films do not.
Campbell is Tess, a young artist who rents an Airbnb in advance of a job interview for a documentary film maker in Detroit. She gets to her bright destination in the middle of a stormy night. That she cannot see the rest of the houses on the block prevents her from seeing a part of Detroit that is worse than anything seen on film. Everyone knows that Detroit has seen hard times, but we’ve never seen it this hard.
When she arrives at the house, the key is not available within the lock box. We soon discover that the house rental is currently occupied by Keith (Skarsgård), apparently an overlap of rentals from two different companies. Since neither can reach the manager of the property, they are stuck.
It takes a while for Tess to decide to stay. Keith seems too nice to be true. Odd occurrences are matched with events that make one wonder what they are waiting for afterall.
The wait is worth it.
The horrors of Barbarian are left to the imagination, for the most part. There are fewer moments of grotesque imagery than our mind expects to experience, based on what we know MUST be happening. Once we’re given that shock, then things take an even more unexpected turn. And then another.
The performances are good throughout. Campbell is ready for the next step, clearly. Her presence is magnetic as her beauty. She has a clear intelligence that is matched by her instincts. Skarsgård walks the line between innocence and sinister, to the point where we have no concept how much he knows. Long is right in line with his petulant Hollywood loser personae. And it’s perfect for this film.
As for the horrors, like I said there is nothing so new as much as how it is portrayed with originality. What we’re seeing is not so surprising as why we are seeing it. If you’ve ever wondered who sticks around when an urban area falls apart, this story will give you an idea.
Cregger handles some very common story elements in a completely original way. It is because of this that we never feel cheated when watching Barbarian. The director/writer leaves us with a delicious desire for more, even when we know that more will not enhance the story and may well detract from its overall effect.
(**** out of *****)