‘Barbarian’ is an Airbnb nightmare

Zach Cregger’s film deserves a blind theater experience

Mason Hickok, Editor-in-Chief

“Barbarian” is a prime example of a filmmaker committed to narrative and vision. Writer, director and comedian Zach Cregger’s project is not your typical horror film. Several well-known production companies, such as A24 and Neon, turned down Cregger’s film before BoulderLight and New Regency Productions picked it up. Since A24 and Neon are often two vanguards held in high esteem by moviegoers, one would think a director would be discouraged, but not in this case. 

“Barbarian” follows Tess, played by Georgina Campbell, who arrives in the pouring rain to find the Airbnb she booked is occupied by Keith, played strangely by Bill Skarsgård, who also booked the house. Skarsgård’s “too good to be true” demeanor immediately raises an eyebrow, but the film quickly deviates from Keith. 

The otherwise idyllic house sits on a suburban stretch of Detroit, Michigan wrought with decay and forgotten whispers. It is located in the Brightmoor neighborhood, a real part of Detroit ravaged by the housing crisis and a falling economy. Cregger ties this into the narrative structure — at one point, the film switches time periods to introduce a pivotal, albeit heinous, character central to the plot. The generations of torment this home has faced underpin nicely with the history that balances out the violence that this house and this neighborhood have witnessed.

Another aspect that makes this film so unique is the nonconformity it takes in its structure. Without spoiling the absolute absurdity of “Barbarian” — Zach Cregger’s film deserves a blind theater experience — I will say that the twists and turns taken here are shocking and jaw-dropping. The first 20 minutes of the film work to establish Skarsgård as a possible villain in the movie. The script introduces several moments between Keith and Tess that would have any sane person screaming at the screen. It is a genius creative tool from Cregger to confuse the audience. Furthermore, Cregger’s use of the three-act structure favors confusion. 

At about the halfway point, the film flips the audience on its head. We are then introduced to AJ, played hilariously by Justin Long, a dethroned Hollywood actor facing a sexual assault scandal. AJ’s ties to the Airbnb in Detroit add to the film’s dense backstory. Where comedy is balanced ever so carefully, the atmosphere lags. The film is entertaining, but the shock and gore can only do so much. Anna Drubich’s score is sharp, often utilizing drones and dissonant voices reminiscent of screams from a cavern. Nevertheless, the film does almost everything right, and Creggers delivers a tightly packed, bonkers experience. “Barbarian” was released on Sept. 9 and is in the midst of its theater run.