I’m going to start this review by saying there will be NO SPOILERS, so don’t worry about that. I’ve seen many critics give lots of things away in their reviews.
There are three different story segments in Barbarian, and they all get tied into a house in a lovely part of Detroit. Okay, it’s a horrible part of town. You certainly won’t want to live or travel there after seeing this picture (but I highly recommend you check out the Motown museum on West Grand Boulevard if you have the time and the means).
The shame of this is how well the movie is set up. We see Tess (Georgina Campbell) arriving at an AirBnB, only to find another person (Bill Skarsgard) staying there. They butt heads, but he soon turns out to be charming and we find they have a few things in common. Perhaps she doesn’t know he played the killer clown Pennywise in IT, but I digress.
What was refreshing was how, when she walks into one room of the house and sees his wallet – she opens it up and takes a photo of his license. When he hands her a cup of tea, she doesn’t drink it. After all, she didn’t see him pour it and doesn’t know if it may have been drugged. And when there is a weird room in a basement and it’s pitch black, she looks down and quickly says “Nope!”
I’m just not sure why in the second half of the movie, all the characters end up doing stupid things that are horror movie tropes. The filmmaker started off on such a good path avoiding all those cliches with a strong cast that does well with their parts.
We meet a sleazy Hollywood producer (Justin Long), who gets a phone call about a pilot he’s putting together and a rape allegation against him. He’s the one that owns the AirBnB, and he’s considering selling it to pay some legal fees. Will he go into that basement? Or…did he set up this basement with many corridors and hidden rooms, that looks like Maxwell Smart and Bob Crane put it together (those are the perfect references to use here, if you’re 60 years or older).
We do get a few decent laughs. We also get a few social issues thrown out there – gentrification, urban decay, date rape, and police officer biases. Yet none of those are delved into all that much.
You get a few jump scares that are fun. And, a flashback to the origins of the house, that didn’t make much sense to the friend I brought with me. We both got a kick out of hearing Asia’s “Heat of the Moment” and talk on the radio about Reaganomics (I had just told a friend the night before at a BBQ how funny it was that Steve Carell likes Asia in The 40-Year-Old Virgin).
What started to bother me was all the stupid decisions characters started making later in the film. When it was set up so well and they didn’t do this, suspending the disbelief of what would happen later, just didn’t work for me.
It was fun watching this movie and thinking about other films I enjoyed. The various segments, since it cuts to the second act with Justin Long singing along in his car, made me think of Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye (since it had various segments that all connected with a cat, instead of a house; that was done so long ago, James Woods could actually get parts in films and politics didn’t sabotage a career, but I digress).
When Tess has an interview at a restaurant with a documentary filmmaker who made a film on jazz, it reminded me of Clint Eastwood’s job interview to host a jazz festival, at a restaurant in the thriller Play Misty For Me (the first time he ever directed a movie, back in 1971 and it still holds up).
Writer/director Zach Cregger (The Whitest Kids U Know, Wrecked) does a few things right. The camera work was fun; but he did many things wrong. I’m guessing horror fans won’t mind the stereotypes. The friend I brought loves horror movies, and she had a blast with it (although there were a few scenes we didn’t quite understand and had to discuss at length afterwards). I suppose for the movie fans who just want to get into an air-conditioned theatre during this heat wave, they’ll have a blast and enjoy the ride.
When I was asked what I thought of the movie, I said it wasn’t my cup of tea (the pun wasn’t intended). A national critic that gets almost every movie she reviews wrong, said this was “one of the most brilliantly executed, sharply incisive and wildly scary horror films.”
And since it currently has a high Rotten Tomatoes score, perhaps I’m the one that is getting this wrong.
I will conclude by saying – any expectant mothers planning on breast feeding their baby – should avoid this film (not sure if that was a spoiler alert, or a warning the studio should have put on the movie poster).
1 ½ stars out of 5.