Barbarian (2022) Review

“Overrated” would be the right word to describe Barbarian, which is finally available for streaming on Disney+. For months, I’ve been reading nearly universal praises from many critics about this acclaimed horror movie, which in turn, got me curious whether it was truly worth all the hyperbole.

Barbarian actually has an interesting story hook from the get-go. In fact, the first 40 minutes are a masterclass of build-up tension and suspense. We first met Tess (Georgina Campbell) arriving at the small house in Brightmoor, Detroit on a rainy night. She has rented the place, only to subsequently discover it has been double-booked by a young man named Keith (Bill Skarsgard), who is already inside the house.

After some moments of confusion, Keith is kind enough to let Tess take the bedroom while he’s sleeping on a couch in the living room because he figures it’s already late at night and there’s a huge convention going on that hotels are fully booked at this point. Tess reluctantly agrees and everything feels awkward at first and it’s all understandable, given the fact they are two complete strangers living in the same house. Just so you know, the issue of double-booked Airbnb actually happens in real life when two guests happen to book the rental for the same date on two different listing sites.

Bill Skarsgard in "Barbarian" (2022)

But Tess and Keith are eventually comfortable with each other. We learn more about them and among them includes Tess turns out she has an important job interview the next morning with a documentary filmmaker.

Long story short, Tess discovers a basement. Not just a basement but also has a secret door that leads to a dark, God-kn0ws-how-long-the-passageway is. So far, so good and I have to say that writer-director Zach Cregger, making his solo directorial debut, knows well how to make a creepy little horror movie up to this point.

The first act also works because of its what-if scenario about two strangers dealing with the double-booked Airbnb problem as well as the well-developed character interactions between Tess and Keith. And as I keep streaming the movie, I was wondering whether a kind-hearted guy like Keith actually has a sinister agenda. Well, I’m saying this because I always find Bill Skarsgard has that look of a creepy antagonist, largely due to the fact he made such a lasting impression as Pennywise the Dancing Clown in the epic two-parter of It. What happens next after the basement discovery would lead to spoiler territory, which I won’t be discussing any further.

Justin Long in "Barbarian" (2022)

Unfortunately, for all the effectiveness of the first act, Barbarian gradually turns into a frustrating experience as the movie goes on. You see, Cregger clearly isn’t interested to make a straight-out horror movie about the creepy basement in the house. He also wants to subvert our expectations on how we generally see a horror movie and frankly, that’s fine as long as the subversive approach is all justified and well-earned. He does this by shifting different tones ranging from serious to comedy, with the latter particularly evident after the introduction of the third character named AJ played by Justin Long. The way Cregger approaches his movie is like he tries hard to be smart and savvy and always one step ahead as we, as viewers, figure out the unexpected direction that he wants to lead us.

It’s just too bad that Cregger’s sleight-of-hand direction doesn’t work as good as I thought, well, at least for me. The more I learn about the house and whatever that is lurking in the dark and dingy basement turns out to be something that is best described as meh. All I can say is grotesque but isn’t scary enough and not to mention the subsequent backstory later in the movie doesn’t add up much to spice up the movie. By the time the third act arrives, the increasing sense of suspension of disbelief crept in as I wonder about all the hows and whats related to the evil that the characters are forced to endure. And when it ends, my mind is screaming “That’s it? That’s all you got?!

Overall, I really wish that Barbarian is as good as all the critical acclaim led me to believe in the first place. It sure has its few moments and the acting including Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgard and Justin Long all deliver respective decent performances. But the wobbly and misguided second and third acts can’t mask the fact that Barbarian doesn’t live up to its hype and reputation after all.