It is the rare modern Horror film that impresses. If today’s genre pictures are to hold any surprises at all, the insipid modern styled movie trailers almost always spoil them. Zack Cregger’s clever “Barbarian” sets out to give genre audiences a creepy thrill, while consistently amping up the unexpected through some truly inventive ideas.
In every scene, it is evident how much thought went into Cregger’s self-penned screenplay, as the film takes its audience down different and unexpected paths, each moment a complete shocker.
On a dark and stormy night on the edge of Detroit, Tess (Georgina Campbell) arrives at an Airbnb. The key isn’t in the lock box as promised and the owner is not answering their phone.
Enter Keith (Bill Skarsgård) who is already inside and has apparently already rented the space.
After the two discover the space has been double booked, Keith offers to take the couch and have Tess take the bedroom.
Rightfully, Tess isn’t keen on sharing the house with an unknown man, but the storm outside is bad and there are no rooms available due to a convention. Staying in a strange city, in a far-out neighborhood, with a man who is not supposed to be there, seems to be her only viable option.
Cregger immediately gives his audience a feeling of unease. The vulnerable woman, alone in a house with a stranger fills each moment and every conversation with gripping tension. Keith could be just as confused as Tess. He could be a kind soul who understands the situation. Or is this all a ploy to lure women into a trap?
Campbell and Skarsgård play these scenes very well, feeding off one another’s subtle styles. The two actors have strong chemistry, handling these moments skillfully as the screenplay and direction dare not hint towards what the night may hold.
Once Cregger’s storytelling shifts, Tess and Keith discover a lot more to the house. This is where the film finds its gruesome thrills. The director increases the terror while unraveling a quite unexpected narrative.
One of the picture’s great pleasures is the doom-laden synth score from Anna Drubich. Mixed with the dark and shadowy camerawork (courtesy of Zach Kuperstein), Drubich’s sound gives the feel of an Italian Horror from the late 70s. As Tess and Keith wander through the ominous hallways of the house, the score enhances the suspense and bathes the film in proper horror atmosphere.
At all times, Cregger is in complete control of the film’s tone, manipulating the viewer by skillfully keeping his focus sharp as his script opens many doors (both actual and metaphorical) that lead to a wealth of originality and some effective scares.
There are big surprises held within “Barbarian”, so I refuse to share anything more. I was consistently entertained by every new path taken and moviegoers should go in knowing only what the trailer shows them.
Kudos to the company who crafted the trailer. For once, another rarity in modern cinema; not a single surprising moment is spoiled.
Zach Cregger is best known as a member of the comedy gang The Whitest Kids U’ Know. Much like Jordan Peele (who receives a special thanks in the final credits), nothing Cregger has done before could have prepared us for his skilled Horror debut. If this film is any indication, this man will have a long and successful career in genre films.
“Barbarian” is a smartly directed horror tale. Tense, atmospheric, and bizarre, Zach Cregger’s voice is a much needed and most welcome tonic to today’s lackluster Horror genre.
Written and Directed by Zach Cregger
Starring Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Richard Brake, Justin Long
R, 102 Minutes, BoulderLight Pictures/Hammersmith Studios/Almost Never Films/20th Century Studios