Written and Directed by Zach Cregger.
Starring Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long, Matthew Patrick Davis, Richard Brake, Kurt Braunohler, Jaymes Butler, Sophie Sörensen, Rachel Fowler, J.R. Esposito, Kate Nichols, Kate Bosworth, Brooke Dillman, Sara Paxton, Will Greenberg, Derek Morse, Trevor Van Uden, and Zach Cregger.
A woman staying at an Airbnb discovers that the house she has rented is not what it seems.
Filmmakers seem to have a new favorite go-to plot device with countless recent movies (spanning multiple genres) that set up their story through accidentally double-booked Airbnbs. Barbarian (written and directed by Zach Cregger, marking his first feature-length work without his regular collaborator Trevor Moore) might be filled with more insanity than all of the others combined.
This is boosted by also being unpredictable in every sense of the word, for better or worse. This movie doesn’t throw curveballs, it throws knuckle-curves on a consistent basis, as Zach Cregger fiddles around with structure and clashing tones that further befuddle the mind of what is happening and what can possibly happen next.
Rather than discuss the characters first, considering such a thing becomes a spoiler in itself beyond the first act, it feels more fitting to address the setting and location of Barbarian. The aforementioned Airbnb sits in a dumpy part of Detroit. At least that’s how the white characters describe the area Tess (Georgina Campbell) happens to be staying in while taking up a job interview as a researcher for an upcoming documentary.
They don’t elaborate, but from the look of things, the houses are falling apart and the community is heavily Black. There is a story about gentrification, incompetent law enforcement, sexual abuse, horrifying basement secrets, and morality here told through gonzo madness that, while it certainly tests logic and credibility, marks the arrival of an unfettered, deranged mind.
Surprising the audience is Zach Cregger’s modus operandi, as Barbarian doesn’t actually have much to say about the social issues it incorporates into its narrative. They are still effective and slide into the story nicely, but given the all-over-the-map trajectory, there are some aspects that get under one’s skin as creepy and disturbing but never quite a shellshock.
If anything, Barbarian functions as a weirdo horror funhouse that zigs just when you think it’s going to zag. There is also a healthy amount of tension since the film has no interest in settling down in one scenario or dynamic or even one genre (the second act is more of a comedy surrounded by all this terror).
Also, credit the entire ensemble game enough to roll with every decision grounded in madness. Georgina Campbell plays Tess with resourceful awareness, especially as a woman that has arrived at an Airbnb already occupied by polite oddball Keith (Bill Skarsgård), justifiably on guard staying the night with a stranger.
Justin Long is also a hoot as a self-absorbed misogynistic doofus that owns the home. Without disclosing the role Michael Patrick Davis plays, it deserves to be noted that his performance is exceptionally freaky and that the makeup and prosthetics department deserves applause. Richard Brake also shows up for a few minutes, effectively slimy and gross in a manner that ties much of the story together.
Zach Cregger shows a lot of promise in terms of twisted imagination, but that doesn’t mean every screenwriting choice he makes is a winner (it’s hard to buy into that anyone would willingly book this house for a variety of reasons, which is a gripe that becomes an afterthought considering the crazy places this movie goes).
There are plenty of red herrings and misdirection here that feel cheap, even if the end result is an easily recommendable nutty ride resulting from some of those swerves. At this early stage of his career, he is a more talented director capable of consistently engaging an audience through mystery, tracking shots, turning clichés on their head, creating a sinister atmosphere, and operating under uncomfortably dark themes.
Mileage will vary for Barbarian depending on how much thought one puts into each ludicrous reveal, but it is so chaotically unhinged everyone should see it at least once.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com