Directed by: Zach Cregger
Written by: Zach Cregger
Starring: Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long
Released: October 20, 2022
Grade: A-


When it comes to a great horror-thriller, there are many effective ways to create scares.  At one end of the spectrum, you can go with a farcical scenario involving mythical creatures such as ghosts, demons, zombies or evil spirits.  These films tap into our apprehension of the unknown and the supernatural.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, you can go with a realistic narrative which delves into common fears and inherent suspicions of other people.  Walking down a narrow, unlit alley in a strange town on a rainy evening?  Yeah, that’ll leave most of us on edge.

Written and directed by Zach Cregger, Barbarian is a terrific horror-thriller which creatively finds a way to cover both of the aforementioned alternatives.  It opens with an event which could happen to any of us.  A woman (Campbell), travelling to Detroit for a job interview, arrives at her single-bedroom Airbnb and finds someone else (Skarsgård) already there.  It seems the owner stuffed up and the place was double booked.  Exploring options, she calls a nearby hotel but it’s fully booked given a large medical convention is taking place in the city.

So, what would you do in her shoes?  Would you be prepared to spend a single night in a homestay with a guy you know nothing about?  Would it make a difference if he slept on the couch and you were able to lock the bedroom door?  Would it make a difference if you talked to him for a bit and then formed an opinion as to his true nature?  Would it make a difference if it wasn’t the middle of the night and you had more time to explore other options?  It’s a gripping, plausible opening from Cregger who will have you closely scrutinising every word and facial expression in determining whether Bill Skarsgård is a good guy or a bad guy.

I won’t say too much more because Barbarian is a surprising, continually shifting tale that shouldn’t be spoiled.  You’ll be surprised by both the storyline and the direction.  As an example, there’s a jarring moment half-way through where Cregger turns the tension up to the highest dial before unexpectedly pressing the reset button (you’ll know it when you see it).  The heavy, sinister music score from composer Anna Drubich and the dimly lit, anxiety-building shots from cinematographer Zach Kuperstein add to the film’s impact.

Made for just $4 million USD, Barbarian has been one of this year’s success stories having spent 6 weeks inside the top 10 at the U.S. box-office with almost $40 million USD in ticket sales.  It’s not always the case but it’s nice when positive word of mouth spreads and original, deserving movies find their intended audience.  Hopefully we see the same here in Australia.