Review: Barbarian

Score: B+

Director: Zach Cregger

Cast: Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgard, Justin Long, Jaymes Butler

Running Time: 102 Minutes

Rated: R

Barbarian has a slam-dunk premise: A young woman checks into an Airbnb late at night and there's something in the basement. But to pull off some legitimate scares, what's in the basement better be terrifying. And it is. But what makes this film special is what else it does, taking some unexpected satirical turns, delivering sharp character work and some truly repulsive scenes.

Zach Cregger, a former member of comedy troupe the Whitest Kids U'Know, creates an atmosphere of dread and misdirection early on, and keeps it up. Tess (Georgina Campbell) has arrived in Detroit for a job interview, but finds Keith (Bill Skarsgard) sleeping in the house she's rented. He's kind, but the fear of the situation registers immediately. While nothing untoward happens that night, things become more clearly frightening in the light of day.

Saying much more would give away the film's many twists and scares, so I'll tread lightly. The introduction of Justin Long's A.J. is the film's masterstroke. Seemingly disconnected from the horrors deep below the suburbs, he becomes a key part of the action. Long is absolutely incredible in this performance, which requires him to be angry, cowardly, frustrated, selfish and occasionally self-reflexive. He perfectly tweaks his nice guy persona into a shrewd riff on the many bad men in Hollywood.

The film also excels with its hand-held cinematography during the underground scenes. Often lit with just a flashlight or phone, DP Zach Kuperstein ratchets up the tension so we often catch just a glimpse of the horrors inside. But he also makes sure we get a close-up of some of the grosser moments, daring us to look away. The sound design only adds to the audience's unease. Noises like doors closing, a tape measure recoiling or a gun discharging bring welcome jolts.

But Barbarian will only work on you if you avoid as much information as possible before seeing it. Don't read too much about it. Just check in and enjoy your stay.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.