“Barbarian”: The twist is coming from inside the house

Chris Ferman

“Barbarian,” released theatrically on Sept. 9, 2022, became the biggest surprise for me this year. Directed by Zach Cregger, the film follows Tess, played by Georgina Campbell, as she checks into an Airbnb, only to find that it is already being occupied by a man named Keith, played by Bill Skarsgård, who happens to have also booked the place. 

With nowhere to go, Tess reluctantly shares the space with him. Soon, there comes the realization that there is more to fear in the house than Tess realizes. What follows is a story driven by the themes of male privilege and sexual violence.

On that note, I must provide a trigger warning for this film. This story heavily deals with the subject of sexual violence, which remains largely off-screen. If this troubles you, use your best judgment when deciding to watch this movie or not.

I had no idea what to expect going into “Barbarian.” I had only heard about it every now and then from little mutters on the internet. When the film dropped on HBO Max last month, I finally took the initiative to see it. I hadn’t seen any trailers and knew nothing about the plot.

I’m glad I didn’t. “Barbarian” opens up with a familiar yet uncomfortable premise that slowly devolves into a tense experience that goes in surprising directions. From the start, you’re left extremely wary of Keith while still wondering if he’s the only real threat in this house.

“Barbarian” is carried well by its strong cast. Campbell’s Tess makes for a good lead who is as in the dark as the audience about what’s at play in this strange house. For the first chunk of the movie, both Tess and the viewer are unsure of what she’s getting herself into. 

During the film, I immediately felt that Keith gives off the biggest of red flags. Tess and the audience are extremely distrustful due to his odd hospitality. Then again, that’s what happens when you cast Pennywise the Dancing Clown into your film. 

This lack of trust continues to rise as Keith dismisses Tess’ claims of danger within the house, leaving the audience to wonder if he’s still a threat or if he’s simply not taking her desperate claims seriously.

As the movie reaches its halfway point, the film hits viewers with a major plot twist, catching me off guard in such a gruesome manner that it left me wondering where it’ll go next. The twist is executed well through a slow build up and shifts this movie from a simple stranger-danger plotline into a claustrophobic nightmare.

What works so well about the film’s slow burn payoff is that not only does it reward the audience for their patience, but it recontextualizes some already off-putting scenes from the first act when you watch them again.

Much of the film’s mystery is explained after the introduction of A.J., played by Justin Long. On par with Long’s usual work in comedies, A.J. brings levity and a break from the terror. A.J. has his own issues when he enters the plot, and the film isn’t exactly asking us to sympathize with him the more time we spend with him. Nevertheless, he’s an extra meatbag brought along for the ride.

If I had one gripe with this movie, it would be the usual horror movie complaint of “Why are you still here?” in regards to Tess. Throughout the first hour or so, viewers may find themselves questioning why Tess doesn’t simply leave in the many opportunities she has at the start.

Unless you’re someone who already had the movie spoiled for you, “Barbarian” hooks you with the familiar fears of stranger-danger and transforms into something else entirely. With shocking elements and interesting characters supported by a strong performance from its cast, “Barbarian” is sure to be a tense and enjoyable watch.