2022, R, 102 min. Directed by Zach Cregger. Starring Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long, Matthew Patrick Davis, Richard Brake.

REVIEWED By Trace Sauveur, Fri., Sept. 9, 2022

It’s the dead of night and barraging rain on Tess (Campbell) as she pulls up to an inconspicuous, modest house somewhere in Detroit. She’s in town for a job interview and booked the place on Airbnb for an overnight stay that immediately becomes a headache. After running through the storm she finds no keys in the lockbox, no one will answer her calls, and, worst of all, the homestead appears to be already occupied. Keith (Skarsgård, perfectly playing up his potentially dubious intentions) opens the door, explains that he reserved the place through a different service, and invites Tess in at a loss of other options.

The two try to figure out alternative accommodations but eventually land on sharing the house for the time being. They get friendly over mutual interests and wine and go to bed. All is well and good … until it’s not. Tess has a seemingly harmless but strange experience that night. When she leaves for her interview in the morning, she observes in the daylight that the neighborhood she could not see in the darkness is derelict and abandoned – even her prospective employer reacts in shock when she finds out what part of town the house is in. And when Tess gets back, she accidentally gets locked in the basement, where she uncovers a secret she was never meant to unearth.

To say any more would be to ruin Barbarian’s primary strength: It is endlessly surprising. The trailers have been sparse with story information, and for good reason. This is a film you show up to as cold as possible and allow yourself to be taken on the wild, blessedly unhinged ride the filmmakers have prepared for you. What’s lurking beneath the house is something of such gleeful subterranean horror you don’t know whether to scream or cheer when all is revealed.

This is not writer/director Zach Cregger’s debut work in either department but it is his first stab at something of this caliber. Cregger is known by most as a key player in The Whitest Kids U’ Know comedy troupe, who co-directed and co-wrote the raunchy comedy Miss March with the late Trevor Moore. Barbarian would be a highlight in many accomplished horror directors’ careers; that it’s coming from someone with Cregger’s previous work background is some kind of miracle. His vision is so confidently realized, with an unpredictable narrative structure and enough inventive camera tricks, beautifully gross production and makeup design, and sick gore effects, that this becomes the best movie Sam Raimi never directed.

Cregger has also concocted a scathing satire that is neatly baked into the story about the violence of men toward women, the ways it has been historically perpetuated behind closed doors, and the way the suffering they’ve inflicted crawls its way into the light. This fits nicely into one of my favorite types of film: the one concentrated on the dark underbelly of American domesticity and complacency, that looks at the grime and filth under the surface dead-on and confronts the rot.

However, it also succeeds where many other horror films that are ostensibly About Something do not: It remembers to be a good horror movie. The thematics and commentary fit in naturally so as to not take away from this as just a real fucked-up good time. As far as genre flicks that take wild swings to both subvert and celebrate all that makes movies like this great, it’s this year’s Malignant. Scary, funny, brutal, smart, and perverse – this is the stuff that future classic horror midnighters are made of.

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More Zach Cregger Films
Miss March
Two-fifths of the Whitest Kids U'Know comedy troupe wrote, star in, and co-directed this nubile sex romp about a road trip to the Playboy mansion.

Josh Rosenblatt, March 20, 2009

More by Trace Sauveur
Retirees meet E.T. in this lackluster but well-performed dramedy

Aug. 11, 2023

Randall Park's social satire centers on self-sabotaging hypocrisy

Aug. 4, 2023


Barbarian, Zach Cregger, Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long, Matthew Patrick Davis, Richard Brake

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