31 Days of Hallowe’en 2022, Day 29: Barbarian [2022]

Last night was another film I’d watched after absorbing the built-up hype around how my viewing experience was supposed to go. And it’s my fault for buying into that, because I think I expected a slightly different film than what I got.

Barbarian, written and directed by Zach Cregger, follows Tess (Georgina Campbell), a young woman who comes to Detroit for a job interview. When she shows up at the Airbnb she’s booked, she’s astonished to find someone else staying there (Bill Skarsgård). This is all I should say about the plot. I’d rather anyone reading this go in as blindly as I did.

On balance, I enjoyed most parts of this. The first act was excellent in terms of building up tension drawn from both real-life horror and horror-movie horror. The second act had a jarring shift to me in terms of storytelling, and by the end I didn’t notice much in the way of character development. Tess just seemed a vehicle to react to things, and I felt a secondary character was given too much screen time that could have gone to Tess. Our threat seemed underdeveloped with some backstory thrown in via a hard cut (so much of this film feels like segments of short films mashed together), but what it represents is truly, topically chilling (and historically, too).

There’s a lot to like about this. Our trio of actors (Campbell, Skarsgård and Justin Long) are all fun to watch, and the antagonistic side of things is by turns horrifying and disgusting. But to me the house itself felt like the most compelling element, with its House of Leaves-style layout terrifyingly parlaying the fear of the literal unknown. Some characters do make some pretty poor decisions, but we wouldn’t have horror movies without that. Maybe it’s just my OCD but if a stranger is staying at a place I rented and I can’t reach the person with whom I made the booking, I’m not setting foot in that place.

Ultimately, I think this does deserve the hype and I like what it has to say about double standards in gender safety, white flight, toxic masculinity, and how all cats are beautiful. I just would have preferred it to be wrapped up in a more cohesive story with characters written to have more plausible reasons to make the decisions they did. That said, although I’m familiar with but haven’t seen Cregger’s sketch show (The Whitest Kids You Know), I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Score: 🎃🎃🎃

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