Barbarian Delivers The Scares

You’d be forgiven by simply reading the title of the movie if you suspected Arnold Schwarzenegger to arrive on screen in a loin cloth and a giant two-handed sword at his side. This is typically the response I received when I mentioned to friends who weren’t familiar with the film that I was going to see this. After explaining that no, the film is a mystery/thriller film, I’m greeted by either enthusiastic questions, or the sighs of folks who were expecting something akin to Conan.

Barbarian, a film written and directed by Zach Cregger is one of the latest in what looks to be a fun lineup of scary movies just in time for the Halloween Season. Featuring a star-studded cast of notable actors such as Bill Skarsgård (IT), Georgina Campbell (All my friends hate me) and Justin Long (Jeepers Creepers among others) the roughly hour and forty-two minutes is a fanciful, if not always consistent, film about the dangers of strangers and more importantly staying in a strange house.

Tess (Georgina Campbell) is an aspiring documentary film maker, who has arrived late at night in Detroit Michigan. She pulls up to a charming house that she had reserved on Airbnb. With the rain pouring down she locates the lockbox only to realize that the key to the house is missing. Understandably frustrated she attempts to call the homeowner, only to get voicemail. She resorts to knocking on the door after she sees the lights come on and is greeted by Keith (Bill Skarsgård) who claims to have also reserved the house, albeit on a different website.

Tess reluctantly enters the home, and after unsuccessfully trying to secure a room at another hotel, agrees to spend the night. Unlike familiar movie tropes where the female lead character has a trusting and almost oblivious nature, Tess takes all the steps possible to ensure her safety. She refuses tea that Keith has made for her (not knowing for sure if it has been laced with something), takes a picture of his driver’s license, and even reviews his reservation confirmation to ensure everything seems legit. Keith offers for her to stay in the bedroom, which he reminds her, has a lock on the door, and the two decide to spend the night at the house and will sort it out in the morning.

On her way to her interview in the morning, Tess is unnerved to see that all the houses nearby are abandoned and falling down, given her late arrival it was something that had gone unnoticed when she arrived. She attends her job interview, which seems to go incredibly well, and against the stern warning from her potential new employer not to go back to the neighborhood she is staying in, she feels a connection to Keith which draws her back.

We are then drawn to Southern California where AJ Gilbride (Justin Long), a famous actor who is under investigation for his own misdeeds, and as luck would have it the owner of the Airbnb, is forced to make a trip to Detroit to sell his property to come up with the necessary funds to manage his own legal entanglements. This sets in motion a chain of events, that will impact each of these characters lives in different ways.

Barbarian is a film that uses several familiar horror tropes to drag the audience in. Everything from “stranger danger” to a creepy location is all here. Bill Skarsgård does an excellent job at keeping the audience on their toes and regularly guessing about his motives. Georgina Campbell’s portrayal of a smart and strong female character is a welcome change from the traditional damsel-in-distress characters that all to frequently make critical mistakes at every turn. Finally, Justin Long (who was not featured in the previews, and honestly was a surprise to myself) is portrayed as his typical good-guy persona, happy and joyful in the beginning, only to see things turn suddenly and in some unexpected ways.

Unfortunately, Barbarian does fall into the same traps that several of its predecessors have done in the past as well. Some scenes are depicted in ways that are meant to shock the audience, where allowing the audience’s imagination to do the work would have been far more successful. You have your typical gross-out scenes, that are clearly unnecessary, but continue to drive that shock value that these types of films lend themselves to.

Barbarian is definitely a film that takes unexpected turns and is a film that folks looking to see it should not read any spoilers. While a recent trend in movie trailers is to give the movie away, Barbarian did an outstanding job keeping the films true nature from the audience. Its for that reason alone that you should go into the film as naïve as possible. Once the twists and turns are settled it makes for a satisfying horror film, maybe not one that will drive folks flocking to the theater for multiple views, but worth a first look for those who are looking to kickstart their Halloween season.

4 out of 5 stars