Horror Film Barbarian Provides Entertaining Twists

First-time director Zach Cregger updates classic horror tropes to provide a worthwhile night of fright


What would you do if you rented a home for a night, only to discover that some stranger is already living there? As terrifying as this scenario may sound, director Zach Cregger manages to turn it into an even more terrifying movie in his horror debut, Barbarian

The film follows Tess Marshall (Georgian Campbell) who rents a house on Airbnb in preparation for a job interview. Much to her surprise, the house is already inhabited by Keith Toshko (Bill Skarsgård) who claims he also rented the property using a different service. The movie follows their tense relationship as they agree to split the rent, but they soon begin to realize that this house is not normal and has many dark secrets held within.

Barbarian is Cregger’s directorial debut, and it’s a spectacular one at that. Although the film uses a lot of conventional horror tropes, Cregger still manages to reinvent them using modern techniques. The movie is hard to predict and many of its twists manage to catch you off guard, partly due to the absurd but fitting story. I recommend going into this movie blind so that you’ll be fully surprised by the direction the movie takes. Cregger does a brilliant job piecing together a thrilling movie using a combination of both old and new techniques.

One aspect of this movie that made it work were the performances. Many of them had not been a part of major horror films before, and despite that they still did wonderfully. Georgian Campbell, Bill Skarsgård and Justin Long all do a great job of selling a variety of emotions, from awkwardness and discomfort to nervousness and terror. 

You might recognize Skarsgård’s name from the It franchise, where he portrayed the infamous clown Pennywise. Skarsgård broke away from the Pennywise mold and really showed his versatility in this film by playing a character with a wide range of emotions that need to be portrayed, as opposed to a cold, heartless clown. Every actor did an incredible job of immersing the audience in the film with their great performances.

The film also excels in its writing. When Tess and Keith are forced to stay at the hotel together, their dialogue perfectly portrays the discomfort of their situation. It also puts a certain level of distrust in the viewer, as they start to wonder if Keith is as friendly as he seems. The writing also accurately expresses the personalities of the characters. When Long’s character, AJ Gilbride, is introduced in a later act of the film, his speech patterns and actions towards other characters really makes him a hard person to sympathize with. Overall, the writing style of the film really fits the characters well and contributes more to the enjoyment of the film.

Another major upside of the film was its cinematography and lighting. The latter element is used very well to set up twists and build tension as the film goes on. The cinematography is also very unique, giving Barbarian a very distinct style. Every single shot, from a sliding view of a neighborhood to a first-person perspective of a frantic character, is expertly crafted and really helps to set the current scene.

The pacing of the movie is also done relatively well. It can be split up into four acts, with each act flowing cohesively from the last one. The movie takes a little bit of time to start up, but once it gets going, it doesn’t stop. There is a definitive turning point in the movie where it starts to become more action-packed, and I think that is when it really starts to shine. Regardless, the entirety of the story, from its exposition to its resolution, is told in a way that keeps the viewer captivated at every moment.

One other aspect of the movie that is also worth mentioning is its score. While not the most impressive or memorable part of the movie, it still contributes to its atmosphere, heightening the tension in some parts. There is a use of the song Be My Baby by the Ronettes that was dreadfully ironic, and although this trope of uplifting music playing during unsettling moments is not unheard of, it is still executed well in this context.

For a first feature film, Cregger makes a spectacular debut and creates a name for himself in the world of horror. It is clear that everyone that worked on the film put forth their best effort to create a truly memorable horror experience. One can only wonder what terrifying plots Cregger will create next in his promising horror career.