Tess Martin (Georgina Campbell) terrified and crawling up the basement stairs. PHOTO COURTESY OF ENTRETANTO
Barbarian is the debut film for Zach Greggor, who is one of the founding members of the comedy group The Whitest Kids U’ Know. His other passion must be horror because Barbarian is a unique take on the possibilities of what horror is. Filled with misdirection, disgust, and compassion, Barbarian will leave its audience thoroughly confused as well as horrified as to what they just watched.
Barbarian tells multiple stories all at once. The movie begins with Tess Martin (Georgina Campbell) discovering that the Airbnb she booked for a job interview in Detroit has been simultaneously booked by a man named Keith (Bill Skarsgaard). The unexpectancy of
the situation Tess finds herself in leads her to be very skeptical of Keith, which is reinforced by Keith’s stumbling style of communication. Keith fits into the natural creep who is attempting to adopt the stand-up guy façade to lure Tess into his clutches. A turn of events
leads Tess to make a discovery about Keith.
Once this discovery is made, the movie shifts perspective to AJ Gilbride (Justin Long), an established actor who is accused of sexual-misconduct and is at risk of losing everything. To escape the allegations, he flees to his rental home, which happens to be the very house that was overbooked. His lack of care in managing his investment reflects his character in that he does not care for anything but himself, which leads the audience to believe that the allegations are true. At the house, he is instantly thrown into madness due to his self-perceived invincibility. This invincibility is quickly disproven, leaving the audience to wonder whether his fate was determined as soon as he decided to hide from his atrocities.
At the intersection of the two storylines, we are instantly sent back in time to the glory days of Airbnb, before it was even an Airbnb. We meet Frank (Richard Brake) who is at the store buying infant supplies for his pregnant wife, or so he says. We then see the eerily perfect neighborhood that the Airbnb used to be a part of, which is a stark contrast to the disintegrating neighborhood we were first introduced to.
The setup of the story creates uncertainty in the audience as to where they may end up next. Each time that a possible climax was reached, a retelling occurred, and with it a new layer of confusion as to what was actually happening. By not presenting the “horror” aspects of the movie in a linear fashion, the audience was left wondering when the next moment of terror would happen and in what manner would it happen in.
Besides the unexpected nature of the movie, there were important humanistic themes presented. Most notably, Tess was portrayed as the figure of resiliency through her altruistic actions that put her at extreme risk, yet she managed to find a way through, even when she was wronged by the very people she set out to help. Keith is the classic “don’t judge a book by its cover” adage. He does his best to show his kind heart but, because of the situation, every effort is looked at with scrutiny like he’s vying for an unknown position of dominance. His attempts to show his kindness are eventually recognized, but are taken advantage of just as quickly.
Although AJ is the character everyone comes to hate, he is a great vessel of symbolism of everyone’s dark side. The dark side being consistently indulging in behaviors that are self-defeating that eventually bubble up into one final knockout punch of realization. The hope is realization will be the only punishment, but in most cases, including AJ’s, this is not the actuality. Tess being in Detroit for a job interview is pointless to the story and seems all too clearly just to be a way to set up a transfer of information. If Tess was in Detroit to visit family or visit her on/off boyfriend, a new dimension of the movie could have been created that would have added to the suspense.
Barbarian is a must watch for any horror enthusiast due to its unique storytelling as well as the semi-realistic terror elements that it has. Watching the trailer before seeing the movie will only create more confusion, so it’s best to go into the theaters without any expectation as to what will occur to fully appreciate what does.