Why is no one talking about BARBARIAN?!
Occasionally, I’ll experience a film that impacts me so significantly my feet can’t carry me home to my laptop fast enough to write a review for it. This is one of those films. However, now that I’m typing, I’m unsure what to say about it to convince you to see it without giving anything away. Just…trust me! Writer/Director Zach Cregger (THE WHITEST KIDS U’KNOW) has gifted us with ninety minutes of “WTF?!” that kept me so far on the edge of my seat that I could have fallen out of it.
My first impression of the film was its poster as I scrolled social media. It was eye-catching, perhaps a little retro-looking, with a provocative title; I immediately added it to my must-see list. I’m so grateful I didn’t watch the trailer. Shortly after, a trusted source from one of my many horror podcasts mentioned it, calling it “The horror event of the summer,” and said that the trailer didn’t give too much away. I fast-forwarded through the rest of his spiel about it, and I still didn’t watch the trailer. Today I saw the movie, and then I watched the trailer, and that’s exactly how I suggest you experience this film. Go in with as little knowledge about it as possible. I didn’t even know the premise. I was basing my excitement solely on a poster and the good word of another horror expert. Heck, if you’re really hardcore, stop reading this review, go see the movie, then read the rest of it after. The blinder, the better. (Now that I’ve seen the movie and then the trailer, it’s true…it doesn’t really give anything significant away except for a couple of scares, but the excitement and confusion going in totally blind certainly added to the fear.)
Movies like BARBARIAN confirm my theory that the horror genre is truly the best at capturing the current cultural zeitgeist. No other genre (deliberately or not) taps into the attitudes and themes of whatever decade it’s made in. We find ourselves in a post-(and current)-#metoo era and a handful of horror films reflect those real-life horrors on the screen. The most recent, MEN, was overwrought and silly, losing its message in attempts at high-brow symbolism that was, frankly, too literal..and gross (even for a big fan of body horror like myself.) It lost its audience halfway through by being too preachy about the subject. BARBARIAN takes itself seriously, as it should, but not nearly as seriously as MEN. The delicate balance of pure horror with occasional laughs keeps the viewer interested but not turned off. This movie isn’t preaching to the choir, it’s calling out choir members for their wrongdoing.
From a filmmaking standpoint, Cregger puts us at ill-ease as soon as the movie starts. While it can be classified as a slow burn (which I appreciate), it’s a damn good slow burn. This movie brings suspense in unexpected places, completely jumps ship, then reels us in again. And while you may sit there pulling your hair out asking why these characters are falling for stereotypical horror movie cliches, I promise the payoff is totally worth it. A synth score comes in at just the right chilling moment. The movie reveals insane elements after you already thought you’d seen it all. And it does just enough explaining of itself so as not to alienate the more layman horror-movie goer who might brush this off as “elevated horror.” (I hate that term. It’s demeaning.) BARBARIAN is far from it, actually. The movie’s dalliances with #metoo, gentrification, race, and the nightmarish longterm effects of the Reagan Era may actually fly over the heads of those who shudder at watching movies that are “too woke.” (Which is sort of the point, I think.)
The theme to take away from BARBARIAN is “Believe women!” Whether you’re the seemingly well-meaning, male, neo-feminist, or an in-denial Harvey Weinstein would-be, the film slickly showcases that a woman’s perception of what is dangerous in the world based on lived experience is far more intense than that of men. Notice the differences in how our lead, Tess (Georgina Campbell; excellent), enters dangerous scenarios compared to cis, straight white characters like Keith (Bill Skarsgård) or AJ (Justin Long.) All three provide stellar, thoughtful performances that should make the audience think and perhaps even question their own positions in social settings. Who is a monster, who is a victim…and who is a barbarian? The lasting effects of barbarian practices continue to lie under the surface even today. (Oh, and consent is import AF!)
To talk too much about the movie risks giving away its many insane twists and turns. Think a much smarter, far less messy version of 2021’s MALIGNANT; just as fun but everything about it is better. It’s the kind of movie I will beg my friends to see so that I have someone to discuss it with. So, hurry up and see it; I have so much to talk about that I can’t write in a spoiler-free review! (Plus, I prefer to spend my money seeing this kind of movie because we need more risk-taking, smart, scary horror like this.)
BARBARIAN is currently available to watch in movie theaters.