Wed | May 31, 2023

Movie Review | ‘Barbarian’ – Smart, sadistic and one of my favourite films of the year

Published:Friday | September 16, 2022 | 12:09 AMDamian Levy/Gleaner Writer
Georgina Campbell, who plays the role of Tess Marshall, in a scene from ‘Barbarian’.
Georgina Campbell, who plays the role of Tess Marshall, in a scene from ‘Barbarian’.
This image released by 20th Century Studios shows Bill Skarsgård in a scene from ‘Barbarian’.
This image released by 20th Century Studios shows Bill Skarsgård in a scene from ‘Barbarian’.

During intermission for Barbarian, I whipped out my phone to find out who was behind the visual monstrosity I was enduring. What sick and twisted mind would envision this grotesque and unsettling film? Who is so demented as to put this story on screen for the world to see? Imagine my surprise to see that director and writer, Zach Cregger, is not in fact a horror film-maker, but is most known for his work in comedy.

A man who makes people laugh put together one of the most uncomfortable viewing experiences of 2022. That unexpected surprise is par for the course, given that Barbarian is a horror movie with a number of twists and turns, making the movie an unpredictable and exciting tale from start to finish.

As Tess Marshall, played with conviction by Georgina Campbell, arrives at her Airbnb on a dark and stormy night, she’s confronted by the awkward realisation that her stay has been occupied by someone else entirely. She opens the door to find Keith, played by Pennywise the Clown’s Bill Skarsgard.

Being a woman on her own in the late evening, Tess is understandably sceptical. While I’m sure Mr Skarsgard is a lovely person, his portrayal as a fictitious murderous clown was so convincing, I’m afraid he’s destined to be untrustworthy on sight. Thankfully, Tess is one of the more intelligent horror heroines, and does her myriad of checks before venturing further into the home. Unfortunately for Tess, no matter how smart she is, Barbarian is still a horror film, and what follows is a series of terrors that beg you to look away, yet compel you to watch for more.

As the film carries you deeper down its intriguing rabbit hole, you start to appreciate the film’s layers with Barbarian giving a commentary on the realities for men and women. Early on the film sets the stage for its message. Tess and Keith commiserate on how they might have handled the situation were the roles reversed. Being a man, Keith would have much less pause, but Tess has no such luxury.

It’s a compelling analysis of male privilege and the dangerous recklessness it presents. At first the film vilifies men, presenting them as monsters hiding behind kind faces. At the same time, there’s consideration for how blinding privilege can be to those very threats. Tess is far from naive and her caution makes her a protagonist you root for wholeheartedly. Her only flaw is her empathy which seems to work against her survival, yet that’s just what makes her so endearing.

Along with all this, Barbarian is a deeply intricate horror film, with some incredibly creepy set design, immaculately paced tension, and some nightmare inducing practical effects. Conceptually it aims high, but its visual style is down in the muck, making you feel palpable discomfort. It’s one of the best horror movies of the year so far and beyond that, and certainly one of my favourite films this year.

Rating: Big Screen Watch

Damian Levy is a film critic and podcaster for Damian Michael Movies.