‘Barbarian’ may be the best horror movie of the year

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Jackson Piercy

Staff Writer

The real barbarian was the friends we made along the way. Photo courtesy of imdb.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that the horror genre is at a bit of a crossroads. On one end, you can find piles upon piles of franchise schlock and piles of unremarkable horror movies that you would almost be comfortable taking your mom to. The other leads to this emerging genre of horror that has the capability of being so ambiguous, you might not even realize that the projector just broke and you find yourself sitting in a dark room with a bunch of strangers for two hours.

Now, of anybody, I should be the last one to criticize either side of the road, seeing as I don’t have the know-how for schlock nor the clout for ambiguity. What I can say, however, is that I know good horror when I see it. “Barbarian” seems to be paving its own way, seemingly a middle path that leans both into the schlock but also leaves enough room to treat the audience with at least a shred of dignity.

Tess (Georgina Campbell) is staying in an Airbnb in a disheveled neighborhood in Detroit, to put it nicely. Her house out there seems to be the only one with four standing walls, and as luck would have it, there seems to be some other guy, Keith (Bill Skarsgård), who seemed to have booked the same house by accident. Rather than leave Tess in the rain in a neighborhood like this, Keith invites her in and they decide to call the agency in the morning. Though, after a strange bump in the night, Tess figures there may be more to the house than the nice furniture and dorky resident may lead her to believe…

I’m going to try and avoid as many plot details because the story of the first thirty minutes is led in a direction that is completely different than you may think. This movie is barebones in all the best ways, and having little backstory and no more than five major players in the story makes this film much more than the sum of its parts. Bill Skarsgård probably brings his best performance in a horror movie to date, and that’s really saying something after he played Pennywise the Dancing Clown in the recent “It” duology that put his name on the map.

Georgina Campbell may be our lead character, but I will put it that she is in no way a typical “final girl” or “damsel in distress.” I will also say that Justin Long’s AJ may be the real surprise performance of the film. Long has a history of playing loveable losers on the silver screen, but after this movie, I can’t stand to see his face. Not only in the performances, but the atmosphere in this picture is also so thick you can cut it with a knife, which is infinitely impressive, seeing what they have to work with toward the last two-thirds of this movie.

To not watch this movie (now on HBO Max) would be doing yourself a disservice. The performances from every single character, the writing that is smarter than it gives itself credit for, and the near-perfect execution in all the aspects that needed it. I don’t think it will win any Oscars, but this is precisely the film that it needs to be, which is something I can hold in much higher regard than any golden statuette.

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