We’re seeing an upswing of Air B&B-based horror movies, and writer-director Zach Cregger’s Barbarian currently sits alone at the top of the heap. It’s a stylistic relative of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, as mood and tone careen crazily between multiple storylines that converge in one really bad house.
Our heroine Tess (Georgina Campbell) is on her way to Detroit for a job interview with a documentary filmmaker. She arrives at her rental, the only livable dwelling in a blighted suburb that looks like World War II ended last week.
To complicate matters, it’s a dark and stormy night. To further complicate matters, she finds her house already occupied by Keith (Bill Skarsgard), a somewhat intense fellow who seems determined to put her at ease, offering to share the house with Tess for the evening.
Eventually, and against her better judgment, Tess accepts Keith’s hospitality and the two get better acquainted over a bottle of wine.
Meanwhile, in another part of the movie, TV sitcom star A.J. Gilbride (Justin Long), is having a rough time with the #MeToo movement, causing his career to crumble.
He’s advised to liquidate his holdings, including some rental property in his native Michigan, currently occupied by Tess, Keith, and something else entirely.
There is a fearsome creature at the heart of Barbarian, but like any good monster, she’s highly sympathetic, certainly more so than the two male leads, neither of whom can adapt in the unexpected survival situation they all stumble into.
AJ in particular is a loathsome example of masculinity; a whiny, raging, mama’s boy, who proves to be the biggest obstacle in Tess’s escape from a hell-house that rivals the Sawyer Family farm in Texas.
Frank (Richard Brake), the owner of the house and its hell, gets his story told in a narrative hopping flashback, and we realize that the thing haunting this hacienda is not the real monster here. In fact, she’s a remarkably nurturing creature considering her grim origin.
There’s a hell of a lot happening in Barbarian, and it understandably leaves the viewer a bit rung out. It’s shocking, periodically funny, and superbly realized by Zach Cregger, formerly of The Whitest Kids You Know.
It’s also a film that’s not afraid to sound off on a laundry list of anxiety topics, including motherhood, property values, Cancel Culture, incest, hospitality industry paranoia, and awkward first dates.
Barbarian is a wild ride that changes course a few times. You’d best buckle up.