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Barbarian Review: Not As Advertised, In A Very Bonkers And Brutal Way

No, you’re not ready, and that’s okay.

Georgina Campbell distressed in dark place in Barbarian
(Image: © 20th Century Studios)

What would you do if the Airbnb you booked was already occupied by a complete stranger? Most of us would find somewhere else to stay the night. But what if you did stay the night and under the home there was a basement that just got deeper and grimier as it went? Time to turn back, not walk through it, right? Despite our own awareness of its heroine is setting herself in the center of a classic setup for a horror movie, Zach Cregger’s Barbarian is not the run-of-the-mill genre feature it’s been advertised as – in a thankfully terrifying and very WTF way. 

Barbarian's opening scenes will lull the most seasoned horror fans with a sense of comfort. You’ve seen the movie before where a not-too-bright young woman finds herself in similar creepy circumstances. However, the movie has the upper hand. It knows just what lullaby to sing to fans of the genre to draw them in before exacting its unnerving (and super bizarre) premise, which will be maintained as a mystery in this spoiler-free review. 

This wild horror ride is best entered blind. 

There’s a shock factor to Barbarian that creates genuinely scary moments if you let the experience be a complete surprise. Let it play with your expectations, and you’ll be on the ride that’s been intended for its audience. It’s a great setup for viewer participation. As much logic you may yell at the screen, Georgina Campbell’s Tess’ tendency to see the best in people and do the morally right thing leads her down particularly dark and gross places. 

Thanks to some cleverly executed marketing, there are multiple narrative threads you are not even exposed to until the depths of the film. For example, horror veteran Justin Long (Jeepers Creepers and Tusk) is in just one brief shot in the Barbarian trailer, and ends up entering movie’s plot from a completely different angle and plays a major role. It’s Bill Skarsgard additionally steals scenes as the stranger staying at the Airbnb that sets up the movie itself. 

From its unique story structure, to the ways in which its leading cast are specifically utilized throughout, Barbarian a wild horror ride that feels particularly packaged for avid fans of the genre looking for new twists and turns and uncomfortable moments to experience in the genre currently flooded with a lot of franchise resurrections and high-brow horror. 

Barbarian walks a fun line between terror and buffoonery. 

Barbarian has a disturbing and brutal villain to reveal, but it also cleverly breaks some of its tension with comedic moments that are pulled off through a script that doesn’t color inside the lines. Essentially, the movie finds a way to bring in two distinct perspectives into the same scary situation in a way that is gratifying to the audience and allows for some push and pull between the gruesome parts of the film and some social commentary without stark seriousness. 

There are definitely some ridiculous elements of Barbarian that don't allow the movie to walk the horror/comedy line with ease. However, it's the kind of film you want to experience with people, which will create its own experience. It’s facilitates a number of reactions throughout the runtime, though they don't invite deep, critical thinking or demand you pay attention to symbolism (a la other 2022 genre features like Jordan Peele's Nope and Alex Garland's Men)

The concept itself may not be complex, but it does find an entertaining way to open up a conversation about the different ways in which the genders operate in our world (even though its leads are somewhat of extreme examples). While women generally have an instinct to protect ourselves, look for red flags, decide whether to walk alone at night, and experience life and do what feels right, men generally don't have to weigh the risks of living their day to day lives and examining situations to that same degree. With a healthy dose of irony, Barbarian takes this subject matter into a place of madness and explores perhaps the worst case scenario (along with some funny pokes as well). 

Writer/director Zach Cregger’s horror debut is bold and confident. 

This isn’t Zach Cregger’s first rodeo, considering he’s found credits as a writer, director and actor for the past fifteen years, primarily in comedy, but this is his first time in the horror space. With Barbarian, Cregger provides a strong debut overall that doesn’t fall into the typical clichés traps of the genre. The movie is engaging, fun, bonkers and weird. It shows confidence to give audiences an original concept out of left field to shock you and then make you feel like you deserve an “I survived” sticker for when you walk out of it. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.