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Barbarian is the type of horror film that loves a twist (or several). Writer/director Zach Cregger’s inspirations are clear with hat tips in both its narrative and stylistic execution. However, he still aims to make his own terrifying adventure that takes big creative swings, and many of them pay off. Barbarian is anything but predictable.

'Barbarian' 4.0 star rating

‘Barbarian’ introduces an Airbnb of horrors

'Barbarian' Georgina Campbell as Tess standing in the doorway at the top of dark stairs down to the basement
Georgina Campbell as Tess | 20th Century Studios

Tess (Georgina Campbell) plans to stay at an Airbnb in Detroit, Michigan for a job interview the next morning. However, she arrives later than expected. It’s pouring rain and the door is locked until a strange man named Keith (Bill Skarsgård) opens the door. Equally confused to see Tess standing on his doorstep so late in the evening, they discover that they are double booked.

Barbarian follows Tess and Keith as they try to navigate this awkward situation. They progressively learn more about one another until they can contact the host to figure out their situation. However, Tess doesn’t realize the horrifying truth that looms over the seemingly unsuspecting Airbnb that she’s staying in.

Writer/director Zach Cregger shrouds terror in the depths of his environment

Barbarian‘s introduction begins much like a romance, but it quickly instills horror overtones. They discover that they have common ground and actually enjoy one another’s company with engaging conversation. Tess and Keith respect one another’s perspectives, as the film points out their differing point-of-views that inform their decision-making. However, Cregger ensures that this comfort is short-lived.

The horror in Barbarian is frequently hidden in plain sight. The film opens in the dark of night in the pouring rain, making it impossible to see anything other than the ominous Airbnb. The house may be small, but its small nooks create undeniable tension. Meanwhile, Detroit is a character of its own, creating an atmosphere that is far more dangerous than the real-life location.

Cregger implements a story transition that flips the script on everything it built before that point. He continues to explore how perspective impacts the journey but implements a comedic element to the film that runs through the remainder of the runtime. Nevertheless, Barbarian never abandons the horror at its core, especially as it navigates the feature’s various twists and turns. Some plot developments don’t make a whole lot of sense, but if you’re willing to just go with it, the big reveals will reward you for it.

‘Barbarian’ is shocking and unpredictable

'Barbarian' Bill Skarsgård as Keith looking suspicious wearing a crew neck shirt and holding the door open
Bill Skarsgård as Keith | 20th Century Studios

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Cregger has a clear appreciation for the horror genre in what often feels like a love letter to the genre. The film is both scary and funny, never allowing its laughs to overshadow its tension. However, a crowd atmosphere certainly elevates the film’s biggest surprises, as Barbarian is sure to elicit big reactions.

The film’s tension is palpable, but there’s no denying that there’s a lot of bad decision-making going on. It’s a horror movie, but audiences are privy to the genre’s tropes, and Cregger plays right into them. Audiences wanting gore with their scares get plenty of it, as the film’s biggest jump scares often bring a fair amount of brutality along with them.

Campbell turns in good work as the film’s protagonist, successfully anchoring the story. Meanwhile, the supporting cast all bring a unique spark to the film. Cregger’s feature benefits from stellar production design that truly allows him to create deeply suspenseful moments. Barbarian draws you to the edge of your seat and knows how to keep you there.

Barbarian creeps into theaters on Sept. 9.