If you’ve heard talk of “Barbarian,” you’ve likely heard that it’s best to go in knowing as little as possible. And that’s certainly true, as the inventive new horror film from 20th Century Studios and New Regency is a riot of both the frightening and the funny when seen with an unsuspecting audience.
But if you’re looking for some context, the setup goes like this. Georgina Campbell stars as Tess, a young woman visiting Detroit for a job interview. When she makes her way to her rental home, she discovers a man named Keith, played by Bill Skarsgård, is already staying there. Late, raining and with no immediate course of action with the rental company, she reluctantly agrees to stay the night.
Campbell is excellent as Tess, who goes from skeptical to terrified as she learns the home is not all it seems, while Skarsgård’s Keith appears friendly but perhaps a little too accommodating, leaving uncertainty of his intentions.
What comes next is best left a surprise. And the film itself may come as a bit of a surprise, too, as it was written and directed by Zach Cregger of the sketch comedy series “The Whitest Kids U’ Know.” But as a straight-up genre exercise, “Barbarian” showcases Cregger’s keen ability for shifting and merging tones.
Despite effectively creating tension throughout, the film packs a hefty amount of comedic relief. Much of that comes from the key supporting character AJ, played by Justin Long, though the film’s reveals manage to be so perverse and off the wall that they play like gangbusters for a crowd.
The current social climate also hangs over the film, which incorporates themes related to the #MeToo movement as well as the disconnect between the police and public.
According to production notes, Cregger began to develop the screenplay after reading a book about how women should be wary of seemingly harmless everyday red flags around men, an idea which is key to the film from the beginning.
But even so, Cregger manages to work these elements into the film without them ever feeling forced.
And even if you’ve read this far, “Barbarian” packs a lot of surprises that are as unpredictable as they are shocking and violent.
For a debut horror outing, “Barbarian” reveals Cregger as a fresh and bold newcomer to the genre who isn’t afraid to take risks but also knows how to play to a crowd.
“Barbarian” opened in theaters Friday, September 9.