By Cedars A&E Staff
“Do I look like some kind of monster?”
(Author’s note: ‘Barbarian’ contains mature and disturbing content, most of which is conceptual, which can be triggering for some viewers. Viewer discretion is strongly advised.)
I’ve always enjoyed a good horror movie. The thrill of a jumpscare, the feeling of chilling anticipation, and the eventual sigh of relief once the credits start rolling and our characters are finally safe makes for a nail-biting journey. That being said, my enjoyment of horror as a genre goes beyond just the thrills; horror is fascinating to me on an existential level. Horror movies, from the most thought-provoking ones to the ones made simply for cheap thrills, always say something about the world and humanity, and coming from a Christian worldview, I find it fascinating to analyze these views and their depictions of good, evil, and all things in between. And throughout all my years of watching horror movies, none have shown the utter depravity and lostness of humanity like 2022’s ‘Barbarian’.
‘Barbarian’ is written and directed by Zach Cregger and stars Georgina Campbell as Tess, a young woman traveling to Detroit for a job interview. When she arrives at her Airbnb to stay the night, she finds that it’s been double booked and is forced to stay in the house with a stranger named Keith (Bill Skarsgård). With tensions high and suspicion rising, Tess soon discovers a hidden passage in the house’s basement, which houses a terrible, dark secret. Or at least, that’s the straightforward premise that was presented to me by the trailers and plot synopsis online. While this summary isn’t a misdirection by any means, it only covers the first third or so of the movie. I can’t properly summarize what the film’s true, hidden nature really is without you experiencing it for yourself, and if you’re a diehard fan of horror, experiencing it for yourself with as little knowledge of what comes next is absolutely essential. If you’re not a horror fan with a strong stomach, though, I can’t recommend ‘Barbarian’ to you.
As the film continues, the plot turns darker and more revolting, and with the very first reveal of ‘Barbarian’s’ “monster” by the end of the first act, I found myself leaning forward in the theater with a genuine feeling of fear. I had no idea what to expect, no idea what came next, and mixing with the disgust at what I’d just seen, I also had an unnerving fascination with what would happen. This is not just because of ‘Barbarian’s’ plot and thrills, but also because of the way the film is put together. The first act builds and builds and finally explodes with a jaw-dropping reveal, only to cut away to LA to follow a new protagonist AJ (Justin Long), leaving the audience left to wonder what has happened in this terrifying house and whether or not we’ll ever get to see our other protagonists alive again. Much in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’, this switch of the camera raises more questions and does more to get audiences involved and guessing than most horror movies I’ve seen, and the way these two plotlines converge and play off of each other is nothing short of genius.
‘Barbarian’ also has some of the best cinematography I’ve seen in a modern horror movie. Shots are deliberate and creepy, combined with the storytelling and framed in such a way that even something like a cut of the camera to focus on a cup of tea builds fear and tension. Never lingering too long when it doesn’t have to, and always waiting for just the right moment to show what it needs to, the filmography of ‘Barbarian’ is handled masterfully. There’s a flashback scene to the 1980s in the film, and ‘Barbarian’ even shrinks its aspect ratio for the scene, with the camera following the character of the flashback in such a unique way that the whole sequence feels like a nightmarish fever dream.
What makes ‘Barbarian’ so hard to discuss, though, is the nature of its twists and revelations. The film hides its true nature from all summaries and trailers, which is wonderful for the filmmaking and spoiler side of things, but makes discussing the film near impossible without revealing all of its biggest secrets. The twist of what’s buried beneath the house is utterly horrifying both visually and conceptually, and as the layers get peeled back further, it simultaneously gets harder to watch while becoming more fascinating. Can I recommend ‘Barbarian’ to everyone in good conscience? No. The way it uses horror is both twisted and praiseworthy, showing a complete mastery of its director’s craft. But the subject nature of the film, what it is really about, is hard to stomach.
(The last section of this review will contain spoilers.)
The villain of ‘Barbarian’ isn’t the monster stalking and killing people below an abandoned suburb of Detroit. It’s a man. A twisted, evil, vile man that showcases the utter hopeless depravity of what humankind is capable of. A man that kidnaps, rapes, imprisons, and breeds an evil that has known nothing else, an evil that only exists because it has been born of and shaped by a man of such depravity that it makes my stomach churn even writing this. He’s the true barbarian of the film.
‘Barbarian’ has great scares, genuinely jaw-dropping twists, and filmography and sound design that’s simply exquisite. But when the credits stopped, what stuck with me was its concepts. I came away with a glimpse into the darkness of humanity, one that’s extremely fictional but very much based on real horrors in our world. I came away from ‘Barbarian’ feeling both bleak and hopeful, because understanding the truth in what it presented, I can all the more find hope in the fact that humanity hasn’t been left abandoned in our depravity, and that we have a Savior from our evil that’s much more real than anything on a movie screen.
I give ‘Barbarian’ a 9/10.
‘Barbarian’ is now showing in theaters.