‘Barbarian’ is a twisted, funny ride that struggles to hold the landing

'Barbarian' is a twisted, funny ride that struggles to hold the landing

Director: Zach Cregger
Writer: Zach Cregger
Stars: Georgina Campbell, Justin Long, Bill Skarsgard

Synopsis: A woman staying at an Airbnb discovers that the house she has rented is not what it seems.

There is an unparalleled exhilaration that can come from watching a finely crafted horror movie. Many may believe this is the euphoria received from efforts to dive deeper into stronger thematic commentary, with the aim of linking dire scenarios with deep emotional revelations. While this type of storytelling is highly regarded, there is still a particular joy to be found in the broader pleasures, when the emotions lean more towards the spectacle and produce a more universally entertaining presentation. the ambition of Barbarian catharsis is not within its reach, but the assembly of its intertwined plot. His efforts are not entirely successful, but they are incredibly captivating and delightful to discover.

At the beginning of the film, Tess (Georgina Campbell) has just arrived at a small house in the middle of a decrepit Detroit neighborhood. She has come to stay in an Airbnb that she has rented, but she realizes that she cannot enter the property. That’s because the location was booked twice and another resident is already there. Theo (Bill Skarsgård) is similarly confused by this situation, and he and Georgina decide to temporarily cohabit until this ordeal can be resolved the next day. However, as they settle into their new surroundings, a sinister feeling descends on them. This house has its own secrets that will eventually be revealed, and this ultimately leads to horrible conclusions.

Part of the thrill of watching these events unfold is the mystery of not being fully aware of the direction this narrative is hurtling toward. The simple setup leads to more discoveries that guide the audience through one unpredictable twist after another. Writer-director Zach Cregger has confidence in cinema that plays on those expectations, creating a moody atmosphere that uses its sparse set to great effect. Every out-of-focus shadow in the background adds to the tension, and the unassuming production design is actually a valuable asset in crafting this terrifying perspective. The soundscape is also exceptional in its execution, and Cregger’s overall direction is wholly absorbing in creating a suspenseful exercise.

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The twisted nature of the plot is both the source of the film’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. While it is exhilarating to explore each new revelation that comes our way, overstatements eventually lose their novelty. As the ending begins to emerge, the script feels stifled, as if it has explored every possible avenue and thus has little room to maintain its forward momentum. The threads, which were convincing at first, fray at the ends and don’t land with much impact. This also makes the more comically punctuated tone changes more jarring and off-putting. That’s not to say there aren’t any cool elements, but it’s clear that for all the intelligence this script has, it ultimately collapses in on itself and packs far less power than when it started.

Campbell has a solid presence that makes her a pretty capable leading lady. There’s a down-to-earth personality to her portrayal, always the key to playing an effective horror heroine. She doesn’t get many opportunities to put on an amazing performance, but she inhabits an absorbing anchor. Skarsgård is able to infuse the role of her with an aura that is endearing yet suspicious, a perfect calibration for building tension while also having a charming attitude. It’s a quality that she possesses so naturally as an actor, and it’s put to good use here. Justin Long is the other notable member of this cast, appearing later in the film as a person with another connection to the property. While his introduction is awkwardly presented and is the source of most of the laborious humor, Long’s performance is enticing. His character placates a delicacy that covers a toxic and insidious core, and removes these layers in an impressive way. All the actors do a commendable job of keeping one involved along with the journey their characters are forced to endure.

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There is no doubt that it is best to enter Barbarian knowing as little as possible. That discovery is part of what makes this piece so fascinating. Expedition through these many facets of the story is what makes for an exciting adventure, built on that foundation that pushes one further to discover which direction they will be pushed next. It’s a shame that such energy can’t be sustained, and it loses a lot of steam when it comes to the end. Still a fun though excursion regardless, and a shining example of how wildly entertaining the genre can be. If the finer details of the film can be avoided, the experience will be that much more rewarding.

Grade B

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