By Jack McLaughlin
“Barbarian” tells the story of Tess (Georgina Campbell), who travels to a home she’s renting to find Keith (Bill Skarsgård) also renting. This awkward double-booking results with Tess staying the night with him, which allows her to accidentally discover the evilness lurking beneath the home.
This is the solo directorial debut of Zach Cregger, and while there are glimpses of a good film in here, it’s dragged down by its average performances and lacking script.
None of the actors stand out in a way that enhances the viewing experience. Everyone on screen does a painfully serviceable job telling the story that I feel could have been conveyed to viewers better if this was not a problem.
The one character who stands out is AJ (Justin Long), but not in a way that’s good. His character is perceived as light comic relief, but most of his humor stems from him constantly swearing in response to the grotesque situations the main characters find themselves in.
The film does an excellent job making viewers passionately despise him. At each narrative turn following his introduction, he progressively becomes more unlikable with each passing minute of his screen time and that especially stays true during the ending.
Cregger also wrote the film’s script, which is filled with all of the questionable horror tropes viewers have grown increasingly tired of.
The most egregious trope is in the opening scene, where Tess willingly agrees to stay in the home alone with Keith. Keith is constantly raising red flags with potential ulterior motives that Tess ignores after they have polite small talk for a few minutes.
Another frustrating trope present here are two cops who ignore Tess when she’s requesting help from them after escaping from underneath the home.
It makes sense in the context of the story why the cops would not immediately believe Tess’ bizarre story about the house. But since it’s been done endlessly in many other movies, it comes off as a lazy cop out to explain why no one outside from the main characters would be involved in the story.
Without any notice, the script constantly tosses the viewer into different settings and characters with no immediate reason.
The two sequences that do this have fun building up the suspense as to why they decided to break off from the main characters to tell the stories of these other characters, but it sometimes doesn’t pay off in the way the filmmakers probably wanted it to.
The first one does an excellent job establishing AJ, who is initially perceived as a fun actor but is then seen trying to minimize a pretty serious sexual assault allegation that eventually sends him to the house.
The second one, a lengthy flashback that takes place in the ’80s, has touches of unique cinematography and a vibrant setting but it ultimately leads to being shown something that viewers are reminded of again later in the main story, which sort of defeats the purpose.
The viewer does not need to have the information repeated to them, especially given the disturbing nature behind it. If the sequence later on didn’t emphasize this aspect as much, it would have made this intricate flashback much more meaningful.
Coming back to cinematography, there are some unique choices made when filming, which gave the story more suspense.
A notable moment is when AJ is walking around the tunnels underneath the home and the flashlight he’s holding is constantly losing power. The constant flickering of the light made his encounter with the person dwelling in the tunnel much scarier than I would have expected.
The brief moments of anything remotely interesting will not save “Barbarian” from being another lacking horror release this year. The unimpressive writing and directing make for an unfavorable first impression from Zach Cregger, though there are glimpses of his potential throughout.
Rating: C-, Excruciatingly average.