Barbarian is about the worst Airbnb rental in the history of the universe. Writer/director Zach Cregger builds suspense from the get-go, with co-stars Georgina Campbell and Bill Skarsgård giving convincing performances as strangers double-booked at a house in the middle of a highly sketchy Detroit neighborhood. They agree to share the house, but then strange things start happening. A secret door is discovered in the basement — and that’s all I’m saying.
The script reaches a crescendo of sorts about one-third in, and then does a one-eighty, introducing the house’s owner (Justin Long) driving along the west coast. His story builds — with a bit of welcome comedy — until it connects with Campbell’s and Skarsgård’s. And that’s not the only one-eighty in the movie. Cregger plays with form and chronology a bit like Quentin Tarantino often does, keeping us in juicy anticipation of his mystery being revealed.
The build-up is always more satisfying than the reveal, but Barbarian does better than most horror movies in serving up some fresh surprises. Seasoned horror fans will be able to list many influences, but Cregger’s amalgam never feels like a rip-off — it stands on its own, building upon horror’s tropes and touchstones while adding a teeny bit of relatively new socio-political subtext. This one should appeal to both casual horror fans and connoisseurs. It’s very well made, very well acted, and bound to be on many ‘year’s best horror’ lists.