B-B-Barbarian. B-B-Barbarian. B-B-Barbarian. It goes SO HARD and I’m ashamed I waited this long to see it for myself.
Like I mentioned before, the best horror films, hell, the best films in general, know how much information to give away and how much to withhold from its audience. From a presentational and productive standpoint, Barbarian pulls this off with flying colors not only due to having a unique structure with a stylized but digestible aesthetic but Zach Cregger constructed all of this with the intention to be uncomfortable and abrasive at times and the brazen screenplay that supports it weaponizes trauma with a genuine purpose behind it and a super precarious grip on focus with a little bit of outlandish camp and tenderness.
With a steady handle on pacing, beautiful practical effects, characters that actual mean more than they seem and an absolutely delicious execution to slice-and-dice humor that shouldn’t work but revels in its simplicity, there’s a tongue-in-cheek self-awareness to the ambiance that engulfs the rest of the film despite a lot of echos of Psycho here and there. It’s yet another movie that takes a limited setting and pulls out all the stops to make it as innovative and lively as possible; the cinematography vibrantly well shot with different lens and truly excellent lighting contrasting the preconceived notions of light and dark but still playing on our sense of vision. The use of editing might be fairly standard but the eclectic music that goes along with it makes up for it.
Low-budget but not cheap-looking, production design reflects the efforts displayed without breaking immersion, crippling uneasiness is embedded into its DNA from the offset and you can’t really fault the acting from anybody here.
But that’s before we get to the actual plot at play; one that merges each of its individual chapters together in such a way that actually turns a bunch of tired cliches on their heads while also serving as a antithesis of sorts for the horror trends we’ve gotten accustomed to.
The story isn’t that difficult to understand. It’s one that mines mistrust, paranoia, hubris, misperception, the intricate layers behind survival and to put it simply, the difficulty and self-destruction of men willing to prove women wrong by any means necessary even if their intentions are pure. Between establishing the female gaze brilliantly in the first act to dissecting the broad send-up of toxic masculinity for the rest of the film onwards, it literally and figuratively plays with our expectations on not only how we judge characters but how unpleasant situations can and ALWAYS WILL get worse from there; a fairly simplistic story but stocked the brim with nuance nonetheless.
I normally hate when films completely shift the tone and reset the story without forewarning; more often than not, it’s very distracting and distancing to what came before. But for a devious game of tonal hopscotch, this is one such game I’m more than willing to accept for once. Cregger does slowly piece the story together with little delay and is clever with his misdirection and inclusion of contemporary issues without really trying to be prismatic or change the wheel by adding corners.
Outside the final act, however, the biggest detriment I could find against this film is just how much it overstays its welcome once we do understand what the hell is going on. It’s one thing for the movie to literally BEG it’s audience to suspend its disbelief regarding our characters survival but it becomes somewhat problematic during the last two acts despite never losing a shred of momentum. It never becomes annoying enough to where it takes you out the movie and you’re wondering when it’ll end but for a movie to go this far at firing at all cylinders to barely bludgeon us away with a deflated ending….
….it is initially a little depressing.
Regardless, this was one hell of a directional debut from Zach and needless to say, sir, you’ve got my full undivided attention now.