By Brendan Graham
With horror movies, sometimes it’s best if you know very little before going into an experience, but oftentimes it’s not always easy. Commercials, spoiler-filled trailers, and social media run amok and before you know it, you already know exactly how a movie is going to play out before you’re even in your theater seats. We love to build hype for movies, but often it comes at the expense of the mystery of it all. For BARBARIAN, I saw the first initial trailer and that was it. I didn’t read any reviews, or really follow any of the trends on social media. I wanted to experience it for myself, and the other night I finally had my turn and I found myself genuinely surprised at how the movie plays out and had a great time experiencing it. This review will contain no spoilers, that way you can hopefully venture in the same.
In the film, we are introduced to Tess Marshall (Georgina Campbell), a woman who is trying to start a new life and leave a controlling partner. She has a job interview in the city in the morning and has booked a house in a rundown neighborhood on Airbnb to crash at. Upon arriving in the pouring rain, she is distressed to discover that the property already has someone staying there who booked on a different website. Enter Keith (Bill Skarsgård), an awkward and strange behaved man at first who is very hospitable and offers her the bed, while he takes the couch since there are no hotel vacancies in the area. At first, she is very unnerved by Keith but eventually warms up to him, and may even have a slight crush on him. During the night, strange occurrences begin to happen in the house, and the next day, Tess makes a shocking discovery that may prove to have horrific consequences for them all. That’s it, that’s all you need to know.
What I found to be most impressive about BARBARIAN, is how the film plays with the audience’s expectations. The story unfolds at a good pace, never feeling like it’s wasting its time, instead building a strong sense of tension and anxiety that will make viewers squirm in their seats. The characters are well written and the performances are great. Campbell shines as Tess, Skarsgård is quite charming as Keith, and Justin Long (whom you notice I didn’t mention earlier because I'm saving the second half of the movie as more of a surprise) is fantastically quite sleazy, hilarious, and very easy to dislike. The first half of the film plays out one way, and then the second half completely flips the movie over and runs with it in a different direction and I applaud the filmmakers for just going for it. It’s B-Movie madness and it’s a blast to see unfold. Things get gnarly, gory, and squirm-worthy in several scenes, and be prepared for some really out-there makeup effects.
If I had any critiques, it would be that the film felt scarier in the first half and that was the film I was hoping it would turn out to be. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the absolutely bonkers second half, but the first half had me on the edge of my seat. My other critiques would go into spoiler territory and I won’t be treading those waters here. Let’s just say there are some genre tropes that are quite overused that show up here, and some of it ends up a little groan-worthy towards the end.
BARBARIAN demands to be seen with a crowd, whether it’s a theater full of strangers or your friends when it comes out on VOD. The film knows you’re looking for a good time and it sure knows how to deliver for the most part. With a great cast and fun surprises, BARBARIAN is a thrill ride that you just need to see to believe and trust me, I’m looking forward to revisiting this lean and mean piece of horror very soon.
BARBARIAN is now playing in theaters.