New Hotstar movie warns you to double-check your Airbnb
Even though Barbaric released in US theaters last month, it finally got an international streaming release fairly recently. Hailed as one of the best horror films of recent times, Barbaric sure to arouse the curiosity of horror fanatics.
However, viewers should be aware that Barbaric is rightly scary, whether you like it or not. For people with a low tolerance for gory and claustrophobic spaces, Barbaric could make for an unsettling (if not fun) experience. For others, it would be quite an enjoyable thriller with great chances of stirring up unpredictable emotions from audiences towards its third act.
The premise appears to be straightforward at first with Tess (played by British actress Georgina Campbell), a journalist who travels to Detroit for an interview and rents an Airbnb for her trip. But little does she know that her rental home is in the middle of a spooky, lifeless neighborhood. Her problems increase further when she discovers that another tenant (played by Bill Skarsgard of Pennywise Fame) has rented the same house.
So even when the supernatural or psychological elements haven’t come into play, you’re bound to be thrown off balance anyway as an awkward conversation unfolds between the two. With a heavy downpour outside and the hotels in town full, the man still offers that the woman can stay and that they can sleep in separate rooms. He tries his best not to be the creep that true-crime documentaries warn us about. She tries her best to trust a man in a world where trustworthy men are an endangered species.
To go further into the premise would be to charter spoiler territory, but it’s this sense of male privilege and entitlement that becomes a major motif of the film. So even if unexpected terrors raise their grotesque, deranged and bloodied heads in Barbaricthe real horror ultimately lies in the atmosphere of fear that men have created over the centuries.
Alex Garland attempted to offer a similar commentary earlier this year with his experimental horror film titled very simply Men (Indian audiences can stream it on Amazon Prime Video). Still, MenThe emphasis on an arthouse-influenced surrealism may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Barbaric, on the other hand, has enough scares to offer even horror watchers accustomed to traditional jump scares. Instead of a typical Conjuringstyle mansion, the Airbnb doubles as a haunted house. When visitors to the rental discover an underground basement, the dimly lit, claustrophobic terror unfolds in a way reminiscent of found-picture classics like Blair Witch Project.
And even, Barbaric has enough originality to stand out amidst oversaturated horrors (just take the latest Halloween movie as an example). Just as it can be a Herculean task for a woman to judge a man as a “creep” or a “nice guy,” writer-director Zach Cregger’s script offers enough gray areas to surprise viewers. With a shocking ending, a question is bound in mind, “Who’s the real bad guy here?”.
The title Barbaric is also deliberately disturbing in this case. You see several characters who seem antagonistic but who is the real barbarian?
And while such judgmental discussions may arise by looking Barbaric, the 1h to 43m long film is otherwise quite fast-paced, with no shortage of goosebump-inducing camera tricks, realistically detailed gore and tragically dark backgrounds. Filmmaker Zach Cregger is quite the revelation in this case as he’s just been a comedy writer before with even a few acting credits in guilty pleasures like Friends with benefits.
If he succeeds in establishing a reign of terror similar to that Barbaricthen he might just go through a fascinating career change like Jordan Peele (who was once known for his sketch comedies but is now a maestro of horror after get out).
When it comes to casting Cregger, Campbell shines as a hero balancing both fear and confidence when needed. Her character is not a screaming queen or a damsel in distress. She can navigate her way through threats housed in the Airbnb, but can also act rationally in fatal moments. For example, when she starts exploring the rental and comes across one of the low quality areas, she stops in her tracks and mutters “No” (Jordan Peele fans might see this as a cheeky reference to his latest film).
black mirror fans would remember Campbell from the episode “Hang the DJ”, but his previous filmography is not that common. After Barbaricthat could change for good.
Joining Campbell is Bill Skarsgard who, at this point, is the perfect candidate to become the poster child for modern horror with his piercing green eyes and high cheekbones. The Swedish-born actor erupted with his performance as the evil clown in This but has had its fair share of terrifying roles in stone castle and the devil all the time (both can be streamed on Netflix). However, here he tries to defy the typing by trying to play a “normal guy” (or is he?).
Justin Long (who you may have seen here and there or just heard him as annoying rodent Alvin in Alvin and the Chipmunks) also shares screen space as a disgraced actor trying to fight sexual harassment allegations in the post-MeToo era. Withholding all spoilers, Long totally owns the role with his character bringing dark satire to the table. Once typecast for boy roles, Long finally gets to play a slightly older man and possibly signals an artistic renaissance for himself.
In all, Barbaric could have been just a typical “human vs. terrifying creature” story and still worked for its atmospheric tension. But with its narrative also incorporating timely and relevant stuff, it offers new hope for modern Hollywood horror in the same vein as A24 horrors (Hereditary, The Witch, and others) or the work of Jordan Peele (Come out, we, no). There is and always will be a market for jump-scary favourites, like those of James Wan. Conjuring and Insidious franchisees. But Barbarian is one of the few who can balance the two tones and therefore appeal to diverse demographics in horror.
And all its cinematic merit aside, perhaps the biggest takeaway is also: CHECK YOUR RENTAL ROOMS BEFORE YOU BOOK!
We go with 4 out of 5 stars for Barbarian.