Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Barbarian’ on HBO Max, a Terrifically Funny, Freaky Horror Outing That's Full of Crazy Left Turns – Decider

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To be blunt, Barbarian (now on HBO Max) exists to eff with you. That’s why it’s an impressive solo directing and screenwriting debut from Zach Cregger (one of the founding members of The Whitest Kids U’ Know), who shows that he knows how to keep an audience on its toes. The low-budget-but-not-cheap-looking horror outing enjoyed a strong theatrical run, earning a healthy $42 million worldwide thanks to strong word-of-mouth and, perhaps, not being rendered a direct-to-Hulu outing by its parent-of-a-parent-company Disney. Hooray for it, and hooray for us now, since we can watch one of the year’s best funny-scary movies at home.
The Gist: The music? Eerie. The night? Dark and stormy. The house? Cute! It’s quaint and painted a cozy shade of yellow. Seems like the perfect place to get out of the dark, stormy night – save for that music. That’s a sign. A warning siren. A big fat DO NOT ENTER blinking in red. But Tess (Georgina Campbell) can’t hear it, only we can. So no foreshadowing for Tess! Her immediate problem is, there’s no key in the lockbox. She rented the place through Airbnb and – well, there’s someone else in the house already. A perfectly logical explanation, if not a particularly convenient one.
The someone else in question is Keith (Bill Skarsgard). He’s a little put out too – he booked through Homeaway. “Why don’t you come inside and we’ll call these idiots,” he says, and Tess is reluctant, as she should be, but she walks through the door. Would you? Of course not – you heard that music, and the guy doing the inviting played that terrible murder-clown in those Stephen King movies. The whoever who double-booked the place isn’t answering the phone and there’s a convention in town and there are no hotels and Keith is a little weird and awkward but nice? I guess? Not really all that murder-clowny? (You might not realize it, but Skarsgard played Pennywise in IT.) He’s kind of doing everything wrong here but maybe if she pushes through all that it’ll be OK? One of the wrong things is insisting that Tess take the bedroom while he takes the couch because she’s a lady and he was raised a certain way and he won’t take no for an answer. See what I mean? Is this a GET OUT moment or nah?
She hangs in there. She’d like sheets that he hasn’t slept in already so in goes the laundry and while they wait for the washer and then the dryer they get to talking and sipping a little of the welcome wine the bonehead landlord left for the renter. They find a coincidental connection in that she’s in town to interview for a job on a documentary film and he’s one of few people who’ve actually seen the director’s previous film and also actually knows something about the subject of the new film. Maybe they should interview him. Eventually the dryer’s quiet and they’re still talking – about relationships. There’s legitimate spark and charm here. Do we trust this turn of the plot? Need I remind you of the music? That it sounded like a million trapped voices of lost souls moaning in a wind tunnel?
We can’t stop here. There are further developments, see. Like, how someone opened Tess’ door during the night. And how during the light of day, Tess sees that the house is the only one in the neighborhood that doesn’t look like only rats and roaches have lived there since the housing market collapsed. And how there’s no reserve TP in the can and the basement has a door that closes and locks itself (some doors just do that, you know), and I won’t ruin it by revealing any twists and turns here, but needless to say, the reputation of sub-basements will not improve in the wake of this movie. And by the way, where’s the barbarian? I have an alternate title for this movie: Night of 1,000 Red Herrings.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Barbarian is what happens when Alone Together morphs into Don’t Breathe crossed with the episode of Ren and Stimpy where they’re rubber nipple salesmen.
Performance Worth Watching: Nobody’s gonna ding Campbell for being a strong protagonist with Final Girl tendencies, but the movie is saved from poker-facedness by the blatant assholery Justin Long oozes as a character you’ll love to hate. The comedy he brings to the film is as vital as its scares.
Memorable Dialogue: Tess mirrors that one Daniel Kaluuya character in that one movie we saw earlier this year when she peers into a deep dark tunnel and says, “Nope.”
Sex and Skin: None of the former and good dose of the least-sexy nudity you’ll see all year.
Our Take: The Pure Michigan tourism-campaign ad wizards will not be happy with the city of Detroit’s portrayal here (hence the unavoidable Don’t Breathe comparison), the movie inferring that maybe something along the lines of The Descent – or whatever it is! NO SPOILERS! – might be happening beneath its abandoned Brightmoor neighborhood. Let’s just say after a while we start wondering if this Airbnb was built atop the famous Detroit salt mine – and then bam, Justin Long shows up playing a slick Hollywood jackass suddenly in the crosshairs of a #MeToo accusation, and is so far removed from the Tess ordeal, his inevitable involvement in it makes one consider invoking the yo-mama-so-greasy joke that carries the punchline she ended up in Detroit.
So between the Skarsgard awkward-nice guy and the Long creep, and a character played by Richard Brake who’s introduced late in the film, Cregger seems to be weaving a thread of toxic masculinity into the film, so maybe the barbarian is just A Man. But I’m not convinced Cregger’s fully committed to Saying Something, and would rather emphasize the power of a good twist or two (or three, or 10). No, he’s mostly inclined to hook-and-drag us through a series of rousing plot curveballs that are surprising, terrifying, suspenseful and hilarious at the same time. There are flashlight follies, an amusing bit with a tape measure, some wide distorto-angles and narrow aspect ratios, and just enough visual inventiveness and tonal playfulness to trump the story’s sillier, nonsensical moments. So don’t file Barbarian under “elevated horror,” because in this case it’s more felicitous to sit back and react than it is to intellectualize.
Will you stream or skip the terrifying, suspenseful and hilarious #BarbarianMovie on @hbomax? #SIOSI
— Decider (@decider) October 26, 2022

Our Call: Letting Barbarian manipulate you is a hell of a lot of fun. STREAM IT.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at
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