When I saw Zach Cregger’s Barbarian opening weekend, I immediately regretted it. Not because it’s a bad film, far from it. I’ll be honest, it’s my favorite horror movie of the year. What I regretted is that I didn’t wait to see it for Hooptober! The only solution was to see it again in theaters and it to the list anyways.
Barbarian admittedly isn’t a new kind of horror but it enters rare horror territory. This is a kind of film like Psycho, Blair Witch Project, The Sixth Since, and Get Out where going in blind is part of the fun. These kinds of horror films only come about once a generation. They’re the kind of horror films we talk about to folks outside of horror circles. “Look, you gotta see this movie,” becomes the refrain we tell others. I’m not sure this film will enter the same strata as those earlier films. It might be too weird and gnarly for wider mainstream acceptance. Yet Barbarian is a film that holds its own. This is a horror film that pulls deep into the fears of the human psyche to produce a nightmare you remember long after it’s over.
Even knowing what I was getting into the second time didn’t diminish the experience. This is a well crafted film that puts you on edge from the first frame. On a rainy night, a young woman arrives at a quaint well lit house. She booked this place on an online website. As she tries to enter, she looks around her. This is the only house lit on this street. What once looked like a safe haven is now an ominous beacon. Then the door opens. All great horror stems from making a choice that comes with terrible consequences and Barbarian upholds this tradition.
It’s clear Zach Cregger know what makes an audience squirm. It does what any great horror story does; takes the familiar into some terrifyingly alien areas. The film draws from sources of horror both new and old. There’s elements in here clearly inspired by the last 50 years of horror filmmaking and cultural discussions but there are also fears that are far older. It makes fears in the back of our minds a reality. Every second of Barbarian is designed to keep you off kilter and uncomfortable.
I worry saying more will either give too much up or over sell Barbarian. Time will tell if we talk about it as continue to talk about other horror films where it’s meant to be experienced not described. That might be the best way to sell it; Barbarian is a horror film designed for an experience and not a quick summary.