‘Barbarian’ pleads to stay out of dark and creepy basement
Rated R. In AMC Boston Common, Regal Fenway, AMC South Bay and suburban theaters.
“Barbarian,” a low-rent and sometimes laughable monster show, joins the ranks of newly evolved Airbnb horror movie titles such as “The Rental” (2020) and “You Should Have Left” (2020). How many times do we have to shout inwardly, “Don’t go into the basement! to young women in horror films written by oblivious men? The second feature from writer-director Zach Cregger (TV’s “Newsboyz”), “Barbarian” begins with tantalizing promise. Tess (Georgina Campbell), who has a literary name and reads “Jane Eyre”, parks her black Jeep Cherokee in front of a small yellow house in a devastated suburb of Detroit (the film was shot in Bulgaria).
Unfortunately, Tess discovers that the house has been double-booked. A young man named Keith (Bill Skarsgard, Pennywise of the big screen) is already inside. But it’s late. Tess has a big interview early the next day, and it’s pouring rain. Eventually, Tess agrees to stay home, sleeping in the bedroom, while the seemingly harmless Keith takes the couch.
The plot will further involve a pesky basement door, a secret passage leading to a dungeon-like room equipped with a metal bed, a stained mattress and a 1980s VCR camera, steps leading further into the dark (yes, we’ll have unreliable flashlights) and something twisted, powerful and deadly in the depths.
Among other things, Cregger seems to have been inspired by HBO’s “True Detective” series. Some of the elements of his film are elementary. The word “barbarian” could apply to a person (Richard Brake) whom we meet in a neighborhood flashback to the 1980s. Otherwise, the film’s title has little resonance. Curiously, Tess stares into the dark in one scene and says the word “No”, much like Daniel Kaluuya in the current film of the same title. As well in the action of “Barbarian”, we meet a new character, a director from Los Angeles named AJ (Justin Long from the series “Jeepers Creepers”), who is accused of rape and flies to Detroit to liquidate a property he owns. .
Also in the mix is a homeless black man, who at first seems like a threat to Tess, but turns out to be a helpful expert on the house and its basement. In one scene, the Detroit police treat POC Tess like the homeless person she appears to be instead of a citizen deserving of their help. “Barbarian” often makes no sense. The explanation of the existence of the mysterious presence of the film does not hold at all. Sometimes the nightmarish quality of the action and atmosphere makes up for those issues, but not in this case.
Remember how Jane Eyre encounters something shocking at Thornfield Hall? Well, think bigger and crazier. It’s Detroit. BAFTA-winning Englishwoman Campbell is seductive as the resourceful and courageous Tess.
I suppose “Barbarian” has a chance of being a cult, but such status is often overstated.
“Barbarian” contains extreme violence, gruesome imagery, profanity and mature themes.