Film Review/’Barbarian’ – Lewiston Sun Journal
With “Barbarian,” writer/director Zach Cregger of “The Whitest Kids U Know” becomes the latest performer primarily known for comedy to tackle the horror genre. The gold standard is of course Jordan Peele, whose 2017 “Get Out” was an unexpected success both at the box office and on the catwalks. Then there’s John Krasinski, who led “A Quiet Place” to critical and commercial success in 2018, and perhaps even more impressively, “A Quiet Place Part II” to become arguably the first post-pandemic blockbuster l ‘last year. “Barbarian” isn’t a creative game changer or box office powerhouse, but it does get Cregger’s foot in the door for what could be a rewarding career in horror.
The film (at the start) follows Tess (Georgina Campbell), a woman traveling through unenviable circumstances. It’s dark, it’s raining, she doesn’t know the area and she’s in a bad part of Detroit. All she wants to do is check into her rental house, and wouldn’t you know there’s no key in the drop box. But there is a light within. He’s a nervous man named Keith (Bill Skarsgard), who claims he’s the one renting the house this weekend.
He offers to share the house and Tess, who is out of options, accepts. But something is wrong with Keith. He suffers from night terrors, he overemphasizes that he’s not a threat, and he’s played by Pennywise from “It.” Tess finds her way into the basement, and clearly, someone has done more than laundry there. She finds an unlit passage and asks the moderately suspicious Keith to go ahead of her to investigate. Something horrible is happening.
The story then follows scandal-ridden actor AJ (Justin Long). He owns the house, but that may only be on paper. He arrives a few weeks later to sell the property, and this may be the first time he has set foot there. He, too, is led to the basement, and after a detour upstairs (the Cregger comedian looks up), he sets off to explore the darkened, seemingly endless passage. Nope
good comes out of it. Then again, AJ is a huge ball of slime, and maybe “not good” is too good for him.
We had a vague idea of what was lurking earlier in the passage, but AJ’s exploration fleshes it out more, as does a flashback to the house’s former owner, Frank (Richard Brake), a cancer patient. 1980s. The exposition of other characters, including local squatter Andre (Jaymes Butler) fills out the rest. The movie revolves around the twist of what’s in the way, but it’s nothing suggested by the setup. I’ll give you a hint like I did last week with “The Invitation”: the entity is determined to treat characters as something that can be found by changing the I from “Barbarian” to Y, then removing five letters from the title, including the two Rs.
I’ve seen a lot of critical acclaim for “Barbarian,” and I’m sorry to say that I just don’t get it. I think the reviewers just wanted something to recommend in the middle of the traditional August-September dry spell. Yes, it’s a better movie than I expected from Cregger (whose only other theatrically released directorial effort earned a dismal 5% on Rotten Tomatoes), but the final act sabotages much of that who preceded him.
I can imagine Cregger laughing as he wrote the ending, which isn’t as clever or funny as he thinks. The good thing about the success of “Barbarian” is that it will give Cregger the chance to make another horror movie, and hopefully one can hold the landing. The best thing I can say about this movie is the admittedly devious compliment that Cregger shows a lot of promise and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
“Barbarian” is rated R for strong violence and gore, disturbing material, pervasive language and nudity. Its operating time is 102 minutes.
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