Culture Pick: A new barbaric take on horror in “Barbarian”

Priscella Shreve, Culture Writer

Many walked into the theater whispering that the advertisements for the new horror film written and directed by Zach Cregger called “Barbarian” were vague and mysterious. Walking out, the chatter from the crowd exclaimed how justified the advertisements were in their ambiguity and the difficulty in capturing what exactly the film is.  

Fans of lighter horror movies should avoid watching this film or should be prepared to experience a new way of terror and tension. Fans of feeling their muscles ache from tensing up out of discomfort and fear should put this film at the top of their list this November.  

The film starts off with Georgina Campbell’s character, Tess Marshall, trying to get into her Airbnb when she discovers Bill Skarsgård’s character, Keith Toshko, has also checked into the same Airbnb in a mix-up. While this setup of two strangers stuck in proximity of each other may smell of familiarity and cliche, this film flips this fanfiction-like trope right on its head.  

Barbarian does horror in a playful manner, almost teasing the audience with anticipation. Throughout the film, the characters are put in scenarios where characters from other films would venture into the dark blind or aimlessly follow a screaming voice. In this film, the characters hesitate and try to come up with plans to avoid falling into these cliched traps. 

Tess even actively avoids walking into a hidden hallway after discovering it no matter how enticing it is. Instead, she comes up with a way to avoid having to go into the hallway but still being able to look at it from a safe distance. This breeds even more tension amongst the audience as it is reinforced that no matter how cautious these characters act, a horrific fate will fall upon them.  

Even though this film had moments of true terror that rippled through the audience, the tension palpable like a fog hanging over all the heads of the audience, there were also moments of pure comedy easing them into a false sense of comfort.  

The introduction of Justin Long’s character, AJ Gilbert, halfway through the movie brought on a completely different atmosphere to the film. AJ’s pompous creepy attitude allowed the audience to focus their energy on despising and laughing at this character as a distraction from the terror they felt only moments before.  

This illusion of comfort created by the introduction of this character allowed for the horrifying sequences following to hit even harder. This shift in atmosphere happens throughout the film in large chunks, trailing away from the horror before jumping right back into it, making the shifts feel jarring and almost comedic.  

Critically this film did fantastic. Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie a Tomatometer rating of 92%, while the New York Times claimed it as critic’s pick, with Beatrice Loayza stating, “‘Barbarian,’ a gleefully twisty horror movie by the writer-director Zach Cregger, is both a product of modern times and something of a throwback.”  

Overall, this film’s intensity with horror, comedy and affection led to an interactive experience with the audience reacting to almost every part of the film.  

Whether it be with tense silence, boisterous laughter or groaning from discomfort, this film created a connection through horror among the crowd of strangers watching it together. Fans of films such as “His House,” “The Boy” and “Don’t Breathe” should give “Barbarian” a watch. The film was released on HBO Max on Oct. 25 and is available for streaming now.