Every once in a while, a film arrives as a burst of energy in the genre to which it belongs. 2022 Barbaric is this film, the one that has become a breath of fresh air in horror. The film, which is currently receiving rave reviews, stars Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård and Justin Long and is directed by the relatively unknown Zach Cregger. Cregger, who apart from an obscure 2009 comedy miss march and a few TV episodes, didn’t make a big studio movie. Barbaric is sure to catapult him into the world of top modern horror movie directors, and we can’t wait to see what he has in mind for his next project.
Without giving away too much of the jump plot, Barbaric tells the story of Tess, who arrives at her Air BnB to find it occupied by a man named Keith. As the two try to figure out what caused their double booking, they decide to both stay in the house overnight before solving the problem in the morning. The two quickly learn that the house they are staying in is not what it seems. With a hidden door in the basement leading to a room fitted out with just a bed and a video camera, they soon find a cavernous set of tunnels hidden even further beneath the house. What unfolds next is truly gruesome as they discover they are not alone and are hunted by what is sure to be one of cinema’s scariest monsters. What follows is a surprising and thoroughly entertaining film. Let’s examine what makes Barbaric a breath of fresh air in the horror genre.
Most films operate on a three-act structure, a beginning, middle, and end, in that order. In more specific cinematic terms, think; rising action, climax and falling action. Barbaric is no different from most movies in this respect, but it’s its use of the three-act structure that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats, really not knowing what’s next. After the first third of the film and the interaction between Tess and Keith, we are traumatized by the abuser’s first appearance and the vicious state she leaves Keith in without knowing Tess’ fate. Then, as if we were starting a whole new film in act two, we are thrown from dark Detroit to the sunny coast of California. There we meet AJ, played by Justin Long, a TV sitcom actor accused of sexual assault by a co-star. This leads AJ to get his finances in order as he anticipates legal costs related to the allegations. He begins to consider selling his various properties in Michigan, including, you guessed it, the Air BnB occupied by Tess and Keith. AJ travels to Detroit and soon finds himself in the same terrifying situation as his tenants. We then enter act three, where all of our characters so far cross paths for a thrilling and bloody finale.
This type of storytelling has certainly been used in films before. Barbaric, but it’s an effective and interesting way to break down a story. The most notable example of this is the Alfred Hitchcock classic psychology, a piece of cinematic history and one of Hitchcock’s finest films. We spend almost the entire half of the film following Marion Crane, our perceived main character. Only to see her dispatched by Norman Bates in the shower at the Bates Motel. The ability to tell a successful story in a film is impressive; being able to tell two stories that intersect into a satisfying conclusion is something else entirely. Barbaric manages to do just that, keeping audiences interested and invested in the story and the characters.
expect the unexpected
Barbaric, like most movies, is best viewed without viewing a trailer before your cinematic experience. However, if you’ve ever watched the trailer before seeing the movie, you’ll know that the trailer doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what the final product ends up being. Movie trailers these days seem to show off all the twists and turns a movie has to offer in a quirky attempt to get people into theaters. Barbaric takes a “less is more” approach in its trailer and marketing. Is Bill Skarsgård’s Keith the film’s killer antagonist? Is the house haunted by a demon? What’s really hiding under the rental house? I can assure you that if you think you have Barbaric understood before entering the theater, you are completely wrong. It’s quite an achievement for a movie to be surprising these days, especially a horror movie; this aspect of Barbaric is just one of many that makes her a standout in the genre.
Stylized but digestible
One more thing that Barbaric brings to the screen what you don’t see in many mainstream horror movies, and that’s style. The film does this through its direction, cinematography, editing, and score. While some films can overdo it with their stylization, making them inaccessible to all audiences, Barbaric uses the style in a digestible way. Whether through its use of lighting and a dark hallway as the striker is sporadically illuminated by Justin Long’s AJ flashlight, or a synth-heavy score building as the tension of the film increases, or the color palette shifting between dark and dreary modern day Detroit and colorful and vibrant vintage Detroit. Where many modern horror movies get lost in their obscurity, Barbaric uses darkness when necessary and light when necessary. It helps create a fresh feeling in both mood and tone as it changes throughout the film.
Another style used to perfection in the film is the mixture of horror and comedy. While it’s certainly not the first movie to do this, check out Sam Raimi and some of his grooviest films. Barbaric is certainly a more modern example of the successful use of this technique. Often the humor of modern horror movies pushes the movie too far in one direction without balancing what the movie is really about. There is a particular scene in Barbaric which features Justin Long’s character discovering the gruesome underground room and tunnels. Rather than running away in terror, he begins to google if he can include the new rooms in the square footage when selling the property and proceeds to pull out a tape measure and begins to measure. It’s a welcome and unexpected spark of comedy in what has so far been a hellish ride. Where this comedy succeeds is in the tension the audience feels even while laughing. AJ’s comedy measuring the mystery room and the caves is fantastic. However, unlike him, the audience knows something is hiding there with him, and it’s only a matter of time before they find it. It’s the perfect blend of comedy and horror.
The long and short of it? Try to skip the trailer if possible and watch Barbaric; it will be the breath of fresh air you are looking for.