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Barbarian (2022) Review

This is a review for the 2022 movie “Barbarian”. Barbarian was one of my favourite movies of 2022 and a very refreshing take on the horror genre, utilising a lot of tried and tested tropes while taking some completely bizarre turns.

What is Barbarian about?

The plot of Barbarian is difficult to describe without spoiling too much – however, the crux of it is that a young woman, Tess, is visiting Detroit for a job interview. However, she soon discovers that her Airbnb has been double-booked and the house, itself, isn’t all that it was cracked up to be.

The movie interweaves three plots – with Tess’s story being joined by the story of AJ, a cancelled film star, and Frank, a 1980s homeowner in a neighbourhood going downhill fast. Expect “can’t watch” moments of tension, a few beautifully crafted jump scares and some surprising breaks from the action, giving you a chance to piece together the mysteries that lie beneath the surface.

Is Barbarian a good film?

Barbarian does a fantastic job at building tension, to the point where you can spend a good chunk of time anticipating a scare that is still quite far away. This works spectacularly well if you go into the movie completely blind as it’s not at all clear what type of danger you’re dealing with. Is Tess’s seemingly awkward housemate the villain of the story? Is there something deeper? Something supernatural? The lack of knowing makes every single scene ripe with tension and director Zach Cregger knows this.

Some of the characters do make some annoying, classic horror protagonist decisions that will have you rolling your eyes. However, the characters are all well-defined (if not stereotyped) and few actions feel totally unexplainable.

The film, like most modern horrors, does have an aspect of comedy to it. Whether or not these moments make or break a movie depends entirely on if the jokes land and in almost all cases, the jokes here do. AJ, the movie star, is especially funny and there’s one particular joke that had everyone I watched this with howling.

Barbarian’s feminist messaging

It would feel wrong to judge Barbarian entirely on horror merits, as it does clearly strive to be more than that. There is a clear attempt at providing a feminist message, with a focus on the discomfort that Tess feels with her stranger housemate and the misogyny and sexual abuse exhibited by AJ.

For a horror movie, these are interesting topics – though hardly revolutionary. There’s not much said here that hasn’t been said elsewhere.

Spoilers: One of the messages that I found the most interesting, however, was Tess’ failure to keep trusting men. It was Keith’s arrogance that got her into the horrible situation. She was literally shot by AJ, after risking her life to save him. Yet, she still trusted him to do right by her at the end of the movie. He proceeds to let her down again.

In the final scene, Tess shoots the mother – though it’s only in these final moments that she’s shown in a sympathetic light rather than as a monster. The only one willing to sacrifice themselves for Tess was the supposed monster of the movie, none of the men stepped up.

Commentary on cancel culture

Barbarian does take some time to comment on the current debate regarding “cancel culture”, with one of the main cast – AJ – being a celebrity accused of rape.

AJ is presented as a scathing criticism of those who oppose so-called “cancel culture” as, not only does he confess to his friends that he actually did rape his colleague, he shows that personal growth isn’t a guarantee. At one point in the movie, AJ gives a rousing speech about how he is a good guy who did a bad thing. In the next scene, he tries to sacrifice Tess to save himself. Following this, he proceeds to gaslight her, announcing that it was the only way and that he actually didn’t mean to do it (he did). This presents his character growth as being entirely self-motivated: he hasn’t changed as a person, though pretends to. Is this because it makes him feel good? Or because he feels that pretending will benefit his reputation?

Is Barbarian ableist?

My number one concern with Barbarian is its treatment of the Mother, who is presented as the monster of the film. It is explained that she is a child of multiple generations of incest, which apparently explains how she became freakishly strong and monstrous. This isn’t a very pleasant representation of those born from incest or born with genetic conditions.

However, there is the argument that while the Mother is presented as the film’s monster – she is not the antagonist of the film. As previously mentioned, the movie ends by portraying her in a sympathetic light. By presenting her as a victim of men, the same way that Tess has been throughout the film. As stressed by multiple characters throughout the film, the real monster is the man who made her. Does that justify this treatment? It’s not for me to decide and while I’m leaning towards “no”, I think it’s fair to say that it doesn’t ruin the movie.

Will there be a Barbarian 2?

Director Zach Cregger has confirmed that he has no intentions of creating a sequel to Barbarian, announcing that there’s nowhere left to take the story and that he has zero interest in producing a prequel regarding the origin story of the movie’s villain.

It makes complete sense – it would be difficult to create a new story in this universe without having to retcon parts of this movie. It’s almost more exciting to think of what other twisted stories Cregger has waiting for us, without being tied back by a franchise.

Who should watch Barbarian?

To put it simply, if you like horror – you should watch Barbarian. It feels familiar, yet is a very new story and will have you guessing all the way through. Expect lots of tension, laughs and head-spinning changes in tone throughout.

If you’re not a fan of horror and are looking for something that doesn’t stress you out, it may be best to stay away from this one.

This was a review of the 2022 film “Barbarian”. Did you enjoy this film? Let us know in the comments below.

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