When you have seen and been desensitized to whatever media from across the spectrum can throw at audiences finding something that can remix a lot of genre staples into something genuinely surprising and fantastic in its own right should be celebrated. This logic has catapulted Stranger Things to juggernaut status in our current media landscape.
So along comes Barbarian. The latest mainstream studio horror from the US arriving in the UK on a wave of good buzz from various genre festivals in the US. This viewer did not know a ton about it beyond the vague premise in the first trailer of a woman renting an Airbnb with sinister overtones and the appearance of a certain actor that had been spoiled in a fake viral marketing campaign. This isn’t as much of a spoiler as one might think but it’s best to know where’s little as possible going in. Plenty of media ( especially in the horror/thriller genre markets itself on this principle.) That said this is one of the most definitive and effective examples of that marketing trope in recent memory
This is to the extent that it’s hard to know exactly what to give away. This review will settle for saying this match. A young woman ( Georgina Campbell) rolls into a run-down area of Detroit having booked an Airbnb for a job interview the next day. When she gets there it’s quickly discovered that her accommodation has been double booked by another man (Bill Skarsgård.) Over the next few days, they discover there might be something in the basement. That’s all one should know If indeed one is truly inclined to know something about the journey this narrative takes the viewer on.
Barbarian won’t be for everyone. Watching this on Halloween night this viewer never had a total grasp only where the plot might be heading in the best way possible. Plenty will check it out as the narrative starts piling down absurd reveals on top of one another. This watcher loved it. Very rarely is it possible to think of a film in any genre that combines so many conflicting tones and styles into a cohesive package that feels like a singular vision in and of itself. Lord knows how this screenplay got signed off and made into something this effective At delivering a truly exceptional exercise in subverting audience expectations. Not to mention tackling one of the most tired and popular themes within 2022 movie-making and doing it so effectively that it may become a definitive text on (insert thematic spoiler here.) Beyond that, this is just a perfect delightfully nasty rollercoaster combining every emotion possible into 108 minutes of runtime. Plenty of people will think it’s far too silly but it also comes across as exactly the film the creative team was intending to make.
As the credits roll if one has seen enough genre films of this stripe it will be perfectly possible to look at the raw plot beats and think about how a certain amount of the reveals and narrative progression were not that surprising. That said it would be borderline impossible to guess any of the sharp left turns the narrative takes to get to the eventual resolution. Combine this needle drop and cut-to-credits combo that will come across as instantly memorable within cult movie circles and Barbarian feels like watching the instantaneous birth of a new midnight movie favourite. It could be playing the late Friday night re-release and retrospective slots for potential decades to come.
Barbarian won’t be for everyone. It takes far too many wild swings to not alienate a section of the audience that won’t be the very standard film suggested by the trailer and marketing. that said this is a master class in how to subvert audience expectations without sacrificing a core audience who will likely be ride or die for this thing in years to come. Striking the kind of tone that James Wan’s Malignant was desperate to achieve in 2021 but did not get anywhere close to beyond the bonkers third act. Barbarian is like that but for the entire course of its runtime. The kind of thing that’s best experienced with an audience who have no idea what’s coming. This watch was so immediately jazzed by the experience of seeing firm for the first time with a busy Halloween audience who were discussing the wild shifts of what they had just seen as the credits rolled this viewer and the immediate fan went to see the film again before it left UK cinemas. Even when one knows the eventual destination Barbarian held up on second viewing. If one is a fan of this kind of visceral genre movie an instant cult favourite has arrived.