A smart, shocking and surprising horror gem

By Bradley Lane

The trailer for Barbarian is a rare treat. It is a textbook example of showing only enough footage to attract a crowd and not a second more. What was marketed as a thriller about a double-booked rental home and the tension of sharing a space with a complete stranger, is actually something entirely different and much, much weirder. Much like modern horror auteur Jordan Peele, writer and director of Barbarian Zach Cregger made a name for himself in sketch comedy before making the jump to horror filmmaking. With any luck Cregger will continue working in horror, because he is a filmmaker unafraid to take risks and if Barbarian is any indication, he seemingly has a lot to say.

The unassumingly simple setup for the wild ride to follow is that Tess, played by Georgina Campbell, arrives at her Detroit Airbnb to discover Keith, played by Bill Skarsgård, is already staying in the house via a different booking app. The first awkward coincidence gives way to a tense exploration of gender roles as Tess and Keith discuss the potential danger he poses to her if she decides to accept Keith’s offer to share the house for the night. However, while this setup maintains a sense of unease, it just serves to open the story up into something much more dangerous and wildly more depraved.

No film in recent memory has had my jaw so consistently glued to the floor as my theater experience with Barbarian. Just when you think you are tuned into his tricks, Cregger hits the audience with a subversive, yet thematically consistent left hook. It would be impressive enough to have made a purely thrilling cinematic experience, but Barbarian is also a dense thoughtful exploration of power, American economic decline, and especially gender dynamics.

Cregger here has written a layered and thoughtful critique on the near invisible, gendered expectations of women and how men enforce these unseen standards onto women without ever considering it themselves. No man in the film escapes Cregger’s critique, not even the progressive, charming and self-aware male character can move out of himself fully to consider Tess’s perspective outside of a patriarchal framework. This feminism coming from a male writer might seem like lip service if it wasn’t so impassioned, intricate and layered into each piece of the narrative.

Last year, I crowned Barbarian as one of the best horror films of the year. Just a little less than a year later and it has already been canonized as a modern horror classic by fans and is considered among the ranks of the best of the last 10 years; films like Get Out, Hereditary, and The Witch. Revisit one of last year’s scariest and smartest films now streaming on Max. – 4.5/5 stars