There’s been a lot of hush-hushery from the makers of Barbarian, of the ‘don’t give away the ending’ variety. I can totally understand why. Writer/director Zach Creggar has put together a low-budget horror tale that seems to delight in pulling the rug from under the viewer at regular intervals. No sooner am I thinking, ‘Ah, I know what’s happening here,’ than I am obliged to indulge in a major rethink, until – eventually – I’m in the ‘what the hell is happening here?’ camp.
I rather like being in this position and, in the end, I find I’m awarding points for Creggar’s chutzpah, as he gleefully galumphs into uncharted territory. Put it this way: if you can work out where it’s all going, you’re way ahead of me.
Tess (Georgina Campbell) is travelling to an Airbnb in a run-down neighbourhood of Detroit, ignoring regular calls from someone who we presume is her troublesome ex. She arrives in the dead of night, exhausted, only to find that the place is already occupied by Keith (Bill Skarsgärd), who seems thoroughly nice and agreeable. But is he? When Tess discovers that every hotel in Detroit is fully booked because of a convention, she reluctantly accepts Keith’s invitation to take the bed while he sleeps on the sofa, but she’s understandably apprehensive when he offers her a glass of wine.
The atmosphere is already freighted with anxiety and, when Tess wakes up in the night to find that her previously locked bedroom door is open, it’s clear that darker things are coming. These include: the unexpected arrival of the Airbnb’s owner, toxic male film director, A J (Justin Long); flashbacks to the antics of a very disturbing fellow called Frank (Richard Brake); and then there’s… no, sorry, I can’t really tell you about that. You probably wouldn’t believe me anyway.
Campbell and Skarsgärd are both terrific, and Long is convincing as the odious AJ. But Barbarian goes to some pretty horrible places. As the title suggests, there are various barbaric situations for viewers to get through and those who draw the line at seeing a man beaten to death with his own arm might prefer to give this one a miss. Like many films in the horror genre, it’s only in the closing stages that some of what’s happening onscreen begins to stretch credulity. (I was always told that all falling objects descend at the same speed – but apparently not.)
However, it’s been a while since a horror film has surprised me in such a positive way, and in that spirit, I’m happy to commend this film as a right riveting watch.
Just make sure you double-lock your bedroom door when you get home afterwards. It’s best to be on the safe side.