Dungeons, tragedy, and thrills abound in this compelling horror flick
The very first feeling that you take away from watching Barbarian is satisfaction. The satisfaction of not whiling your time on trash content. More often than not, it is likely you will stumble upon creations that leave you with regret.
Bad content is an epidemic and is gaining steam ferociously. Barbarian is a horror film on the surface but a tragic tale of helplessness and cruelty at its heart. But you go into it mostly wanting to see the former and that is present in abundance. Director Zach Cregger efficiently manages the marriage of tender and visceral in his storytelling and extracts quite moving performances from Georgina Campbell and Matthew Davis. There are several sub-genres within Barbarian that are smartly placed. It pushes genre boundaries and delivers a refreshing take on the “haunted house” trope.
The premise involves Tess (Campbell) staying in an Airbnb stationed in a “bad neighborhood”. The house has been double rented, meaning it has two occupants who booked it from two different apps. Kind of like Love in the Villa, which was recently released on Netflix. The other fellow is this weird looking predator-type, played by Bill Skarsgard.
Although the night goes rather pleasantly, something or someone in the house quickly takes over the focus and throws the story in a completely new direction. That is perhaps Barbarian’s most likable quality. Cregger has put together a film that is constantly unfolding.
With almost every scene, he surprises you and defies expectations. For instance, when you see the neighborhood in daylight for the first time, there is an instant, ominous realization of its downfall. These are not twists per se but visual surprises that definitely keep up the mystical element of the plot. The central mystery, of course, is the woman, and her origin story that is paced to perfection. These deflections in the narrative do not feel forced or jarring.
They all serve ultimately the purpose of tying up these different eras into one, using time as the significant denominator. It would not be amiss to call them seamless in how they integrate into the original tangent which seems to be a story of a woman caught in a house with a mysterious stranger.
Another interesting aspect of Barbarian is the social commentary that is ever so slight and executed in a dark comedy-type style. AJ discovering the dungeon and then measuring it with tape after looking up rules about “square footage” is hilarious. At the same time, they are also meant to represent his hollowness and entitlement. Cregger is not afraid to call out the sceptics of Hollywood who cherry-pick their fights.
Although everyone must not be fought with the same fervour, he makes sure that he gets his message across. Little notions like these in the visual language of Barbarian really give a rich and well-rounded feel to the film. it is not just a horror film but something more tender and human that is relatable.
It is sort of like the “finding love in the darkest of places” adage. And that place indeed is dark and unyielding. Given that it is Cregger’s first full-length directorial debut, all these positives are admirable. But in Barbarian, you also find some rawness in the way he sets up and concludes the story. He himself admitted to “stumbling upon” the story as he started writing the scene in the house. Those elements in the basement came way later in the creative process and maybe that is why the film feels a little light on details.
The framework for the story perhaps seems to be a bit incomplete in his mind. Auteurs like Tarantino extensively sketch out the background of their characters and the places they envision. That shows in their works somehow, even if it is not apparent to the naked eye. That depth seems to be lacking in Barbarian. They do not affect the film itself but limit your viewing experience. Creggers leaves too many things to the imagination and that is not the best of looks here. This exercise is almost like borrowing certain elements from different works and then placing them together in your cinematic universe to probe what comes out the other end.
However well those elements are reimagined, there is a fleeting sense of derivativeness in the final product. That gap certainly pulls Barbarian down a bit but only marginally. Overall, Barbarian is a thoroughly enjoyable standalone film and a great introduction to the twisted mind of Zach Creggers, who still has a long way to go.
Read More: Barbarian Ending Explained
Verdict - 8/10