Directed by: Zach Cregger
Distributed by: 20th Century Studios

Written by Michael Clawson

Go into “Barbarian” as blind as possible. You’ll be glad you did. A highly entertaining, tautly suspenseful horror thriller written and directed by Zach Cregger, its scares and surprises are sure to deliver tremendous jolts to the unsuspecting. Read on at your own risk.

You might call it a haunted house movie, but of a distinctly modern variety. On a dark, stormy night, Tess (Georgina Campbell) arrives in a rundown neighborhood in Detroit, and finds that the small home she has rented is already occupied. Keith (Bill Skarsgård) booked the place through HomeAway; Tess booked it through AirBnB. She considers finding a hotel, but Keith, slightly awkward but gentlemanly, proposes she stay the night with him at the rental, he on the couch, her in the bedroom. With some reluctance, Tess accepts the offer. 

There’s a lot to admire about just the set-up of this movie. Campbell more than convincingly imbues Tess with uneasiness about the situation, while Skarsgård’s intentions are enjoyably tough to read. Eschewing the highly stylized approach to horror that’s been so popular in recent years, Cregger’s direction is slick but restrained. Tension builds through his single-direction tracking shots and deliberate pacing. 

Equally impressive is how seamlessly Cregger manages a “Psycho”-esque mid-film story pivot. After Tess makes a nauseating discovery, one that comes during a thrillingly disconcerting sequence in the house’s basement and that culminates in a jaw-dropping shock, the movie introduces Justin Long (in a role it feels like he was born to play) as AJ, a delusional and self-absorbed TV actor who’s just been accused of rape by an actress. AJ’s introduction marks a stark shift in “Barbarian’s” tone: Cregger reveals a clever and dark sense of humor in the film’s second half, which mixes some hilarious bits in with a continuation of the first half’s nastiness. While “Barbarian’s” structure and suspense are Hitchcockian, its blending of tones aligns more with the work of Wes Craven. Its laughs are as good as its frights are unsettling – an uncommon feat.

“Barbarian” Trailer

Michael Clawson is a member of the Seattle Film Critic Society you can follow his passion for film on Letterboxd.

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