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, JR 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 plot device with countless recent movies (spanning multiple genres) setting up their story through Airbnbs booked twice by accident. Barbarian (written and directed by Zach Cregger, marking his first feature film without regular collaborator Trevor Moore) might be packed with more craziness than all the rest put together.
This is reinforced by also being unpredictable in every sense of the word, for better or worse. This movie doesn’t throw curveballs, it throws knuckleball curveballs consistently as Zach Cregger plays with structure and clashing tones that further confuse the mind of what’s going on and what can possibly happen next.
Instead of talking about the characters first, considering that such a thing becomes a spoiler in itself beyond the first act, it feels more appropriate to address the setting and location of Barbarian. The aforementioned Airbnb is located in a lower part of Detroit. At least that’s how the white characters describe the area where Tess (Georgina Campbell) is staying while interviewing for a job as a researcher for an upcoming documentary.
They don’t elaborate, but by the looks of things, the houses are falling apart and the community is mostly black. There’s a story about gentrification, incompetent law enforcement, sexual abuse, horrible basement secrets, and morality here told through gonzo madness that, while it certainly tests logic and believability, marks the arrival of a deranged mind and without restrictions.
Shocking the audience is Zach Cregger’s modus operandi, as Barbarian he doesn’t really have much to say about the social issues he incorporates into his narrative. They’re still effective and slide nicely into the story, but given the trajectory across the map, there are some aspects that get under the skin as creepy and unsettling, but never quite impactful.
If something, Barbarian It doubles as a weird horror funhouse that zigzags just when you think it’s going to zigzag. There’s also a healthy amount of tension as the movie has no interest in settling into a setting or dynamic or even a genre (the second act is more of a comedy surrounded by all this terror).
Also, credit the entire game of the set enough to roll with every decision based on madness. Georgina Campbell plays Tess with a witty conscience, especially as a woman who has arrived at an Airbnb already occupied by polite eccentric Keith (Bill Skarsgård), justifiably on guard to spend the night with a stranger.
Justin Long is also a hoot as a self-absorbed misogynistic jerk who owns the house. Without revealing the role played by Michael Patrick Davis, it should be noted that his performance is exceptionally geek and that the makeup and prosthetics department deserves a round of applause. Richard Brake also shows up for a few minutes, effectively slimy and gross in a way that ties a lot of the story together.
Zach Cregger promises a lot in terms of twisted imagination, but that doesn’t mean every script choice he makes is a winner (it’s hard to believe anyone would be willing to book this house for a variety of reasons, which is one gripe that becomes. an afterthought considering the crazy places this movie goes).
There are plenty of red herrings and distractions here that feel cheap, even if the end result is an easily recommended wacky ride as a result of some of those detours. At this early stage of his career, he is a most talented director capable of constantly engaging the audience through mystery, tracking shots, flipping clichés, creating a sinister atmosphere, and operating under uncomfortably dark themes.
Mileage will vary for Barbarian depending on how much one thinks about each ridiculous reveal, but it’s so chaotically insane that everyone should see it at least once.
Flashing Myth Rating – Movie: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the reviews editor for Flickering Myth. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]