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Review: Barbarian (2022)

Barbarian (2022)

Directed by: Zach Cregger

Premise: A woman (Georgina Campbell) stays at an Airbnb in a rundown neighborhood. She discovers disturbing evidence in the basement.

What Works: Barbarian is an effective haunted house picture. It’s made with knowledge of the genre as well as awareness of the cultural zeitgeist and it uses that understanding to keep shifting and reframing the story in ways that are consistently surprising. This is a film that’s best seen with as little foreknowledge as possible but Barbarian is also very rewatchable in part because it is very entertaining and to study how the film’s different parts fit together. The filmmakers do an excellent job setting up audience expectations and then leading us in a different direction but not in a way that feels like a cheat. That’s true of the narrative but also the scares. The filmmakers use screen space and especially depth in some effective ways. The characters creep around in the darkness and Barbarian is a good example of using negative space to create an atmosphere of dread. It’s a scary film but it is also fun and Barbarian recalls some of Stuart Gordon’s pictures, in particular Castle Freak. Without giving too much away, the terrible secret in the basement is revealed to be more than it first appears and even possesses an element of tragedy. The flashback sequence is especially impressive as it explains what’s going on but also displays some unique filmmaking craft and adds some additional depth to the story.

What Doesn’t: Barbarian hints at a larger point about social decay. Most of the story is set in Detroit and that location is important. A flashback sequence depicts the suburb at the end of that city’s era of affluence before automotive plant closures and other social and economic calamities turned many Detroit neighborhoods into the ruins they are today.  Barbarian positions itself as a commentary about these abandoned places. Whatever else the filmmakers are trying to say about that is unclear.

Bottom Line: Barbarian is a smart and fun horror picture. It hints at some bigger social commentary but doesn’t quite get there. Nevertheless, Barbarian is a very scary and entertaining haunted house picture.

Episode: #923 (October 23, 2022)