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Barbarian (2022) - Bill Skarsgard throws a wrench in plans

6 Reasons to Love Barbarian (2022)

3.5/5

Directed by Zach Cregger, Barbarian (2022) released to American audiences in September of 2022. It offers a another entry in the burgeoning “basement horror” sub-genre coined by my Internet friend and author @AlenVorkov. While possibly not an official sub-genre recognized by the Academy of Horror, a plethora of films have hit theaters in 2022 expounding on the dangers of going into the basement.

6 Reasons to Love Barbarian

1) Justin Long Returns

No stranger to the horror game, Justin Long makes an appearance in this one. While his horror credentials go deeper than this, we all remember Justin kicking off Jeepers Creepers (2001). Justin starred in the Sam Raimi written and influenced Drag Me to Hell in 2008. Also, how could we forget his Arctic transformation in Kevin Smith’s Tusk (2014). In Barbarian, Justin brings one of his most admirable acting qualities to the production… he portrays an insufferable douchebag.

Somehow, Justin always finds a way to be cast as a untrustworthy, self-centered bastard and again he excels with flying colors in pulling it off. He portrays A.J. Gilbride, a sitcom actor recently accused of raping one of his co-stars. The character almost feigns redemption before proving conclusively what a absolute piece of shit he is. In case you are wondering, it doesn’t work very well for him.

2) Bill Skarsgård and Georgina Campbell

Also no stranger to the horror genre, Pennywise the Clown, otherwise know as Bill Skarsgård also makes an appearance in Barbarian. His presence breeds mistrust, despite the fact that he says all the right things and carries a disarming smile. His character, Keith Toshko somehow gets double-booked at a Detroit AirBnB with Tess Marshall, played by Georgina Campbell. The dynamics between the two, and allusions that Toshko might not be right in the head create enough tension to mask create an epic build-up that slow burns up to the end of the first act.

Barbarian (2022) - Georginia Campbell provides a strong woman lead
Georginia Campbell provides a strong woman lead as a street smart final girl

3) Richard Brake

This guy. Richard Brake can shop for baby supplies while exuding the type of menace that makes one’s skin crawl. Rob Zombie regularly casts Brake in his films for this very reason. Did anyone see Richard Brake in The Munsters (2022)? Not only does the guys seethe evil, he pretty freaking funny too! In Barbarian, Brake plays a deranged man named Frank. Cregger never reveals all of the horrors that Frank might be responsible, but he leave absolutely no doubt in the viewers mind that Frank is bad to the sickening bone.

4) Well Paced Horror

This leads us to one of the biggest strengths of Barbarian, the storyboard execution that Zack Cregger employs. Zack sets up a three act play. Rather than use all three acts to complete the story arc of a single protagonist, he cleverly uses this format to transition through time and characters, not unlike a good game of Grand Theft Auto 5. This frees Cregger from have to deal with complicated plot devices to bring everyone together.

The first act introduces Tess and the crazy circumstances that place her within arms reach of Keith Toshko. Cregger builds tension exquisitely and the audience has no clue what to expect while also being certain to expect something. He then punctuates it with a dumbfounding revelation that still leaves much to mystery.

Enter A.J. Gilbride. To the up tempo sounds of Donovan’s Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, A.J. Gilbride drives up the coast. It appears that the world is his oyster until he gets a call from his current production team. A.J. has been accused of raping his co-star. At this point the audience is unsure if he did it, but there are plenty of clues that he’s at least a douchbag. To defend himself in court, Gilbride must liquidate some assets and he just so happens to own an AirBnB in Detroit. We’ll stop here to stay out of spoiler territory.

Zack Cregger then switches gears. Gilbride’s rental property sits on a dilapidated street in Detroit. When we say dilapidated, we are talking scorched earth. The action flashes back more than a decade. The street is pristine and the houses well kept. Frank lives in one of these houses, and upon first glance something doesn’t seem right about him. The action then takes him to the grocery store where he clumsily asks the clerk to set him up with the goods to care for a newborn. Is he just a guy getting ready to start a new chapter with his wife? On his way out of the store, he spots a young woman and starts stalking her.

Zack Cregger brilliantly refrains from offering too much here. He sets up a ton of questions, but coyly refuses answers. Those answers eventually come, but in seriously messed up ways.

Making the point, Cregger uses this framework to introduce a bunch of character quickly in a plausible way that keeps the audience engaged. While the total runtime is modest, Cregger fulyl engages the audience and keeps it fresh throughout.

Barbarian (2022) - 6 reasons to love barbarian - Bill Skarsgard throws a wrench in plans
Bill Skarsgard throws a wrench in plans by going where Tess told him not to go

5) Basements

Back to the Basement Horror sub-genre! Basement Horror is not really a thing. Basements have long been associated with horror. If that scary house has a basement, don’t go in it. Interestingly though, 2022 has a plethora of basement references. Basements take center stage in The Black Phone, Pearl keeps her toasty mother in one (for a while). Barbarian keeps up the trend. Growing up in a Saint Louis suburb, every house had a basement and only the wealthy seemed to have them fixed up. Mine was a place of absolute terror. Even in my 20’s, the basement of my 150 year old rental was off limits. We called it the “Silence of the Lambs” basement. Basements are scary, and Barbarian’s basement reminds us why.

6) Honest Simplicity

We have been using the word “honest” a lot at Malevolent Dark. What we mean by honesty involves the straight forward telling of a horror tale sans the clever intellectual trickery that seems to permeate modern horror. Barbarian holds a really massive twist to the plot that makes it stand-out film, but Cregger takes the audience there without resorting to outright deception. Cregger carefully crafts the tale to withhold just enough information to keep the audience on their toes, but never tries to set a trap. Horror traps aren’t always bad, but sometimes we like our horror served on a hot-platter. Barbarian delivers in spades.

The Wrap

Zack Cregger’s first solo directorial effort really stands out. He makes smart choices in casting and crafts a simple tale that maximizes the horror impact. We have intentionally resisted the temptation to spoil this one, but those with a keen horror eye will see parallels to Stuart Gordon’s Castle Freak (1995). The film manages to actually revolt audiences to nausea in some scenes but also tugs a bit at some emotional heart strings. Cregger interpolates some really gory moments, but the core of this film revolves around the strength of its characters and the disconcerting narrative that slowly unfolds. Barbarian punches its weight in an otherwise strong 2022 Halloween season.

6 Reasons to Love Barbarian (2022) - Malevolent Dark
barbarian bill skarsgard throws a wrench in tess plans

Director: Zack Cregger

Date Created: 1970-01-01 00:33

Editor's Rating:
3.5

Pros

  • Honest plot with great tension building
  • Multiple redirections
  • Georgina Campbell excels in her role as a survivor
  • Justin Long plays Justin Long
  • Empathetic bad guys

Cons

  • Its a real simple plot and may not resonate with fans of deeper stories
  • Leave some open questions

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One Response

  1. Good review. I agree it was a better-than-average modern horror film. I just thought from the start the final girl had so many chances to get the hell out of there and just kept ignoring all the warning signs. But I guess there wouldn’t be horror movies without a few bad decisions 🙂

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