A slightly creepy, visually bizarre comedy with a weak plot that’s almost saved by a great makeup work.

Written and directed by Zach Cregger (The Civil War on Drugs, Miss March) Barbarian tells the story of a woman who discovers that not only has her Airbnb rental been double-booked, but the house itself is home to a dark, monstrous secret. Before seeing this at the cinema, the internet told me that this was one of the scariest horror movies of the year so I was very excited to see it. It turns out the internet was wrong yet again, laughably so.

Tess (Georgina Campbell) is visiting Detroit to attend a job interview and has booked an Airbnb for her stay. However, when she arrives at her rental late at night in the pouring rain, she soon discovers that a man named Keith (Bill Skarsgård) is already staying there. The house has been double-booked and with no other accommodation options available to her, Tess decides to stay after some convincing from Keith.

Already on edge because she’s staying in a house with an unknown man, things soon become more creepy for her when the sun comes up and she discovers she’s actually staying in an abandoned, derelict neighborhood. To make matters worse, there’s a secret tunnel in the basement that leads to a room with sinister and horrific implications of the house’s history. But before Tess can follow her survival instincts and leave the house, Keith’s curiosity of the tunnel and the room reveals to the roomies that the situation under the house is far worse than they could have possibly imagined.

While I found the fim’s pacing to be annoyingly slow and the story to be laughably terrible, the lead actors were actually pretty good. Georgina Campbell gives a very natural and realistic performance as Tess, a woman stuck in an undesirable situation with limited options but does what she needs to because she really wants to get the job she’s applying for. Before her character is thrown into chaos with what is under the house, her character makes plausible decisions and actions before deciding to stay at the Airbnb with a strange man.

Once Tess is in the thick of danger, we learn her character is a good and courageous person as she is prepared to put herself in further danger to help others. Campell is perfectly cast as someone who appears like an incapable, regular person at first glance but ends up having that x-factor and survivor instinct that enables her to take action in the deadly situation she finds herself in.

Bill Skarsgård also gives a natural and realistic performance as Keith, a man trying to make the most of an awkward situation and does his best to be chivalrous in order to help Tess out. While Skarsgård does a great job of playing a slightly dorky guy who seems like he isn’t that great with picking up women, he manages to keep his intentions uncertain, which helps the audience – and Tess – stay on edge. Despite Keith’s overly eager-to-help attitude and his boyishly awkward nature, we’re not sure what he’s going to do once Tess goes to sleep.

I haven’t mentioned him yet, but Justin Long is also in Barbarian and gives a hilarious performance as AJ – the Hollywood douchebag who owns the house and makes a trip to his investment property as he needs to sell it in order to pay for legal fees. While AJ ended up being my favorite character, his inclusion in the film, ironically, is one of the main things that ruins the tone.

Up until AJ’s introduction, the film’s pacing is actually very slow and sort of creepy giving a sense that we are building up to something special. Then as soon as Long shows up, the vibe changes and effectively becomes a comedy. It’s quite jarring and feels like you’re watching two different movies that’ve been stitched awkwardly together. So while I enjoyed Long’s performance very much because I wasn’t really enjoying the film, his inclusion does ruin any chance of this movie being a serious horror film.

Writer / Director Zach Cregger, an actor mostly known for his comedic roles, has made a horror film more absurdly funny than scary. And even then I was mostly laughing at the film – not with it. I admit there are definitely some creepy moments such as the reveal of the hidden room under the house which oozes the appropriate atmosphere and a very cool reveal of what is actually under the house that showcases some genuinely great makeup and costume design. But this isn’t enough to define Barbarian as a horror film.

If the film’s Frankenstein-like tone isn’t bad enough, the plot is just dumb. At first I was curious where the slow story was going to go and was intrigued by the thing under the house. But once all the cards are laid out for the audience to see and we understand everything that’s going on, it’s a very dumb, illogical and nonsensical story. Laughably so. And because the whole situation is more bizarre than scary, scenes meant to be grotesque or disturbing – such as Justin Long’s close encounters with the thing under the house – end up being humorous.  I was laughing throughout the later half of the film – for all the wrong reasons.

Barbarian fails at being “the scariest film of the year” as the internet would have you believe. In truth, it isn’t that scary at all. At best, Zach Cregger’s film is more of a slightly creepy, visually bizarre comedy with a weak plot that’s almost saved by a great makeup work. While I enjoyed the performances of the lead actors – despite one of them wholly out of place – these positives weren’t enough to salvage the haphazard direction, inconsistent tone, and woeful story.

  • MPAA Rating: R
  • Release Date: September 9, 2022
  • Distributor: 20th Century Studios

Originally published on September 17, 2022 at https://www.popzara.com/movies/movie-reviews/barbarian-2022/