The film starts off right off the pages of some of the most cliched manner in horror stories …, ”It was a dark and stormy night ….” Fortunately what follows next is not as cliched and in fact refreshingly different! At least this creativity is maintained for the good part of the movie’s first two acts. However, sadly director / write Zach Cregger just seem to have given up or ran out of ideas for its crucial 3rd annd final act.
In the first act, we are introduced to Tess, a young woman aspiring to take on a journalistic job in Detroit. We see here arrive at her Airbnb rental house in a deserted part off Detroit only to find the house with a man, Keith, already staying there in an apparent double-booking mistake. She develops an initially uneasy acquaintance with Keith and the act moves along in a slow but absorbing pace. This thanks largely to a clever script and strong believable performances by Georgina Campbell and Bill Skarsgard. We keep expecting something bad to happen, but it doesn’t although, we are “rewarded” eventually with a frightful discovery at the end of this part. Then the movie abruptly swifts gear with a look and feel of a completely different movie! Here in this second act, we get introduced to another character AJ, a Hollywood hotshot who has just been accused of sexual misconduct by a co actress. Justin Long plays Keith with a delightful touch of humour that may seem out of place and a little confusing initially on how it is linked to the first act. Eventually we see the connection which makes the proceeding more intriguing.
So far, so good. In fact, so far so great! Director Zach Cregger has a unique style and always plays with the camera angles and scene composition, which suggests something more than what we see. This makes the movie more unnerving to watch. He also makes use of the other elements of sound and music to compliment what is happening on the screen much in the manner of horror maestro John Carpenter.
All this makes the failure of the film’s concluding third act to satisfy even more unforgiveable. After investing our time and attention to the first two acts, our expectation for a finale that kick ass and provide twists and surprises did not materialise. It feels as if Zach had just run out of steam and ideas. The characters behave illogically, the situations are unbelievable, and some characters just seem to defy death even though most normal people would have perished under the situations. At the end, I am left wondering why the film is even titled “Barbarian”. The word is normally used to refer to someone who is extremely crude and uncivilised. I just felt the film’s killing monster falls short of this definition. Unless the film’s title has multiple meanings and is referring to Justin Long’s presumably sexual misconduct and denial of it as being a form of “barbarian”. In other words, deeper a general reference to how there is a “barbarian” inside of each of us? Oh well, food for thought. I would have thought a different title may help serve the movie better as well in managing the viewers’ expectations better.