(Quick warning before you read on about what might possibly be the most batshit insane movie of the calendar year: please go into “Barbarian” reading as little as possible. Just know that it is not for the faint of heart and that it is gnarly and extreme.)
Now onto the actual review.
“Barbarian” is the latest in a string of original horror/thriller films being released to kick off the fall movie season. It’s been a mixed bag for the horror genre in 2022, much like it is for most years, but it seems like the highs have been even higher than in years past. Genre auteurs like Jordan Peele, Ti West, David Cronenberg and others have given efforts that rival even their best works in years past. We can officially enter “Barbarian” and Zach Cregger into this pool of the very best that horror has had to offer in 2022.
Horror is a genre that is self-reflexive by nature. Scares and setups of films past reinvigorate and strengthen those in newer films. Stylistic choices and narrative beats (found footage and final girls being two prime examples of this) and brought down generation to generation to be reinvented and twisted with how a filmmaker sees fit. The best crop of these films are the ones that don’t just use the tropes, but successfully navigate and toy with the audience while doing so. “Barbarian” is perhaps the best example of this in years.
“Barbarian” is an extremely winking film. Its casting of Bill Skarsgard as the possibly innocent/possibly sadistic murderer co-inhabitant of a sketchy Airbnb is enough to drive even the casual horror fans up a wall after his notorious and career-making work as Pennywise the Clown in the recent “It” franchise. He manages to successfully balance these different character beats in a performance that teeters on predictability, but never fully goes there.
Its plot isn’t going to work for everyone, and I can’t really say it landed 100% with me. It secretly becomes an anthology film with its weaving of several plotlines into an eventual final thirty minutes of cohesion. Georgina Campbell and Justin Long carry the majority of “Barbarian’s” heavy lifting even if their characters struggle to morph out of caricatures into actual human beings. The film mostly banks on shock factor, and it can live off of that just fine, but when it is trying to tie up loose ends and build to a finale that feels both rewarding and justified, it doesn’t quite stick the landing.
“Barbarian” is still refreshing and thrilling, and it’s easily one of my favorite theater experiences of the year. Films try over and over again to use the schlocky marketing bit of audiences screaming in theaters only to be disappointing in actual terror when places in front of you (just this year “The Black Phone” fits that description) but “Barbarian” is genuinely jaw-dropping. It’s gonzo and brutal and absolutely one of my favorite horror flicks of the year. Make sure to seek this one out if it’s playing near you, but like I said in the opening paragraph, I hope you’ve already seen it by the time you make it this far.