A Simple Mix-up has Barbaric Results in ‘Barbarian’

Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for ‘Barbarian’

Barbarian has a lot of set-up. By the hour 20-minute mark I had to tell myself that perhaps not everything in this story will be explained. With only 15-20 minutes left in the film, it would be impossible for every question to be answered or every mystery to be revealed. Recent movies have somewhat trained me to prepare myself for such withholding of information. Pig never really gets to why Nicholas Cage’s character became a hermit. Nope never really explains why Gordy the chimpanzee went on a killing spree. While I appreciated both of those movies, the lack of explanations for these story points left me dissatisfied.

But I was ready for Barbarian. I was ready to appreciate whatever ending it was going to throw at me. We may not learn why this one house on Barbary lane is the only liveable space on the block, why ‘The Mother’ has super strength, how Frank ends up capturing all his victims, or what exactly is on those VHS tapes. And that’s okay. In some cases, what’s left to the imagination ends up being the scariest thing of all.

Keith (Bill Skarsgard)

Barbarian begins with a young African American woman named Tess, played by Georgina Campbell, arriving at an Air BnB late one rainy night. Due to some scheduling mishap, Tess finds herself sharing the rental with another man named Keith, played by Bill Skarsgard of It fame. Unable to contact the property manager, they end up agreeing to share the place. The next afternoon Tess discovers a hidden corridor after accidentally locking herself in the basement. Down the corridor, there is a room with a camcorder and a dirty mattress. Panicked and still trapped in the basement, she, fortunately, escapes through a window with Keith’s help. After hearing what Tess has seen, Keith goes down to the basement to investigate. When he does not return, Tess goes down and into the underground tunnel to find Keith, only to make a startling discovery.

From there, we’re introduced to a character named AJ, played by Justin Long, driving down some sunny west coast highway. AJ is an actor whose career is on the brink of collapse due to accusations of sexual assault from a TV series co-star. As the owner of the property that Keith and Tess are staying in, he visits the site in anticipation of selling his assets to cover lawyer expenses. Soon AJ discovers the corridor in the basement and ventures in, where something horrible awaits.

AJ (Justin Long)

Since Jeepers Creepers, I’ve appreciated what Justin Long brings to a horror movie. AJ is not the most admirable human being. The movie does an effective job of depicting a real #MeToo movement sleaze while also evoking some sympathy. While we believe AJ the movie star may truly feel apologetic about his misdeeds on-set, we also know he’s primarily out to save his own butt.  

Georgina Campbell’s character Tess shows some transformation. The beginning of the film sees her as a scared somewhat helpless lady in distress while toward the end of the movie she exhibits strength and perseverance. Not uncommon in horror movies with a female protagonist. In fact, there’s quite a bit of research on this particular device.

The movie takes place in a rundown former suburbia of Detroit. All of the houses are decayed and abandoned. Without revealing too much, a flashback shows the neighborhood in sunny, pristine shape. We see this area of Detroit in all its white picket fence glory. We follow Frank (Richard Brake), the original inhabitant of this house. When asked if he’s leaving town due to fewer work opportunities, he tells his neighbor that “he isn’t going anywhere.” We follow Frank along and we’re left to connect the dots. One by one, these houses will lose their inhabitants either due to dwindling jobs or something more sinister. Evil will drain this block of its inhabitants and leave death and decay in its wake

AJ (Justin Long) and Tess (Georgina Campbell)


The whole setting is dark and disturbing. But specifically, there are multiple scenes in this movie where a character slowly walks down a pitch-black hallway with a flashlight. This is primal, fundamentally scary stuff. As an audience, we’re all just waiting for something to pop out and send us jumping three feet into the air.

Barbarian is truly scary. Disturbing, even. But it’s also fun and occasionally absurd. At times all you can do is laugh. Some parts are far-fetched and not in a bad way. You’re not asking yourself whether you believe this could happen. Horror infused with something ridiculous makes the whole thing more entertaining in my opinion.  

And there’s a bit of social commentary in Barbarian. The assault accusations hurled at AJ turn a shallow and capricious Hollywood against him. Tess and Keith can attest that young and entitled millennials will eat, sleep and drink wherever a cheap room is available.  

Tess (Georgina Campbell)

Malevolent forces thrive in this long-ago-abandoned Detroit. The city’s been left to rot, wither and decay. Tess even attempts to find help in the form of police officers toward the film’s end. But her pleas go unheard or more accurately ignored. This place has lost any chance of surviving. And neglect leaves nothing good behind.  



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