The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema] - BARBARIAN | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema] - BARBARIAN

barbarian review
A young woman finds her rental home has been double-booked.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Zach Cregger

Starring: Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long, Matthew Patrick Davis, Richard Brake, Jaymes Butler, Kurt Braunohler

barbarian poster

When Hollywood began making horror movies in the 1920s and '30s, Eastern European villages were reconstructed on American backlots. Today's horror movies recreate suburban and rural America on Eastern European backlots. Like Don't Breathe 2 and the recent reboot of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, writer/director Zach Creggar's Barbarian is about how monsters can be formed when America neglects communities for the sake of progress (an idea that stretches back to Hitchcock's Psycho). All three films were shot in Eastern Europe, which is incredibly on the nose given how they take place in parts of America that disintegrated as a result of America no longer making its own stuff in America. For decades, Americans were fed stories of how awful it must be to live in Eastern Europe. Today, Eastern Europeans read horror stories about life in America and thank the stars they don't live there.

Like the Don't Breathe films, Barbarian takes place in Detroit, the city that has become an emblem for America's post-industrial decline. It looks like it may have even been shot on the same set. Is there a "Detroit street" set in some Bulgarian film studio now? Psycho, The Hills Have Eyes, Texas Chainsaw, Don't Breathe and now Barbarian are all about what happens to the people who hold out when the rest of their community ups sticks, and it's never good. Away from horror, Clint Eastwood touched on this with his Detroit-set drama Gran Torino, whose grumpy old holdout could easily have become the sort of monster seen in the aforementioned movies. It Follows used suburban Detroit residents' fear of the inner city to great effect. The city has become America's Transylvania.

barbarian review

For a long time, it's unclear just who the real monster is in Barbarian. It takes so many twists that it's become a very different type of horror movie by its climax than the one it begins as. The type of horror movie it opens as is another entry in the recent wave of thrillers based around the world of AirBnB short term rentals (see also The Rental, Superhost, 8 Found Dead, This Teacher et al). Visiting Detroit for a job interview, Tess (Georgina Campbell) arrives in one of the city's abandoned neighbourhoods where she has rented a house for the night. She's startled to find the home has been double-booked, with a nervous young man, Keith (Bill Skarsgard), woken from his sleep by her arrival.

After some coercing, Tess agrees to take the bed while Keith sleeps on the couch. The interaction is smartly written and observed by Creggar and played by Campbell and Skarsgard. Tess's fear is palpable, as is Keith's awkwardness. Tess is worried this stranger is planning to murder her, while Keith is worried she might think he plans to murder her. Female viewers will be screaming for Tess to get the hell out of there, while male viewers will be doing likewise for Keith. They say a woman's biggest fear is of being sexually assaulted while a man's biggest fear is of being accused of sexual assault, and both apprehensions are on display here.

barbarian review

Creggar carries on this idea with the introduction of a flash-forward that introduces us to the owner of the rental property. AJ (Justin Long) is a TV star who receives the news that an actress he recently worked with has accused him of rape. AJ denies the charge, but a drunken conversation with one of his bros suggests otherwise. Desperate for cash, AJ heads to Detroit to prepare his property for sale, and finds a surprise awaiting him.

It's difficult to elaborate on Barbarian's premise, given how many twists and surprises it springs on the audience. But unlike many thrillers, it isn't solely reliant on plot twists. Creggar uses his surprises to keep us on our toes rather than to simply provoke cattleprod reactions. The flashes back and forth in time have the effect of adding to the suspense, giving us new information that clues us into how messed up things really are and just what level of danger the characters have gotten themselves into. Psycho proves a large influence, not just in how the narrative is set in motion by a woman staying the night with a nervous young man she feels is too virginal to prove a real threat, but in how it introduces a second protagonist out of the blue. And of course, there's the theme of the last building standing in an otherwise decimated landscape. It's crazy how Hitchcock's film continually reinvents itself as a metaphor for whatever malaise America is currently experiencing.

barbarian review

As a director, Creggar seems more influenced by John Carpenter than Hitchcock, particularly in his use of the widescreen frame and his recognition of the importance of geography in creating fear. Like Carpenter, Creggar's filmmaking is never flashy and its deceptive simplicity masks an ingenious understanding of what creeps us out. There's a bravura sequence in which someone wedges a chair against a door leading into a dark hallway. As the character walks down the hallway, Creggar keeps the light of the open door visible in the background. This rectangle of safety grows smaller and smaller as the character moves further down the hallway, racking up tension second by second. Most filmmakers would focus on the threat the character is walking towards, but Creggar instead keeps us aware of the safety they're leaving behind.Creggar does something similar with the street the action takes place on, introducing us to it in darkness. In the middle of the night it comes off as a regular creepy street, but in broad daylight it's even more disturbing when we're confronted with a scene of urban desolation.

Things get a bit silly in the climax, but then things got a little silly in Psycho's climax too. We don't remember Anthony Perkins in his mother's outfit rushing at Vera Miles with a knife, we remember his attack on her predecessor. Barbarian similarly does its most memorable work in its first half, but even if you struggle to follow it into the grindhouse territory it navigates in its back half, you have to admit you're watching the work of a potentially very special filmmaker.

 is in UK/ROI cinemas from October 28th.

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