“The Barbarian” Review


Photo Courtesy of Getty Images for 20th Century Studios

“Barbarian,” a new horror hit, released on Sept. 9, 2022, begins with Tess Marshall (Georgina Campbell) driving through a deserted street towards her Airbnb. Unfortunately, through some mistaken double-booking, Keith (Bill Skarsgård) is already there. He invites her in because it is raining, and eventually Tess agrees to stay the night. A very classic set-up, and Skarsgård is perfect as the killer: he is charming in such an awkward, cringing way, à la Norman Bates from “Psycho,” that we expect at any moment for the camera to cut to him holding a knife to Tess’ neck. But nothing happens. The door creaks open at night, but it looks like it is just the wind. Skarsgård groans weirdly as he sleeps, but he is just having a nightmare. 

Zach Cregger, the writer-director, seems to enjoy keeping us guessing. The film is chock-full of horror movie cliches; familiar signals which every film-goer recognizes. Yet right when we feel sure that something is going to happen, “Barbarian” pulls the rug out from underneath us and veers into a completely opposite direction.

Tonally, the film is all over the place, but in a snappy, joyous way that just works. There are plenty of screams but also a lot of laughs. The cinematography is lush and eighties-esque, a throwback to films like Wes Craven’s “Scream” or “Nightmare on Elm Street.” Purple light streams in ominously from corners, dark tunnels are juxtaposed against bright Hollywood sunlight. And even though a main character in the film is an accused sexual predator, “Barbarian” avoids making any explicit political statements, instead focusing on the creation of a sharp, terrifying nightmare. In sticking strong to its horror roots, “Barbarian” capitalizes on the gore and frights.

“Barbarian” is unsettling, frustrating and sort of gross. And it is undeniably a must-watch.