Cert – 18, Run-time – 1 hour 39 minutes, Director – Zach Cregger
After arriving at a double-booked Airbnb Tess (Georgina Campbell) discovers that there’s a lot more to the house than just another renter (Bill Skarsgård).
It’s already been stated in multiple places that it’s perhaps best to go into Barbarian knowing very little. Having seen the trailer you might think that you’ve been shown some of the twists and turns that the film takes, however it turns out that even that shows the relative basics. There’s much more than just a double-booked Airbnb at the heart of this film, and while it certainly provides a fair deal of tension it does lead to a feeling of the film being somewhat overstuffed.
Throughout the course of the main events we primarily follow Tess (Georgina Campbell), turning up to an Airbnb late at night, ready for a job interview in Detroit the next day. However, on finding no key in the lockbox she discovers that someone else is staying in the house having booked on another app. With all hotels in the area seemingly booked up and the surrounding area not being ideal – to say the least – Tess stays the night, with Bill Skarsgård’s Keith taking the couch, at the house hoping to sort things out in the morning. However, after a couple of bumps in the night gradually it’s discovered that there’s a lot being hidden about the house – including an expansive set of underground corridors.
There’s plenty of tension to be found within these confines and the dark, maze-like construction. It comes after an already eerie nature to Skarsgård’s performance which has provided much of the build-up to this discovery, as the film clearly knows how it wants to pitch him and doesn’t appear to hide that fact. As we delve further into the setting we begin to see different perspectives which add more detail to the film and house as a whole, each witnessing something new, or simply more of what has come before, particularly when it comes to the core threat at hand. Certain moments which may feel like stupid ideas for some characters feel in context for others, such as Justin Long’s generally undisclosed role measuring the place up in the hope that it could make him some money to pay for upcoming legal bills.
Even with this in mind the moment still manages to build up eventual tension as his character delves deeper and eventually stumbles across the same thing that Tess has discovered. It’s as we learn more about this threat, including seeing more from the aforementioned different perspectives – some focused on more than others which act as brief glimpses to simply provide more detail than properly push things along – that the film begins to dip somewhat. It starts to feel slightly overstuffed and as if seeing more of the threat and learning more about it removes something from the film and what it’s been setting up.
While it’s understandable that there would be a restricting feeling to just having a ‘trapped in the tunnels’ horror for 99 minutes – although such sequences are dealt with rather well and certainly have a good air of tension to them – the extra detail and elements simply detract from the overall effect of the horror. Yes, there are still tense and engaging sequences which hold your engagement with the piece and allow for you to still feel involved with it, simply things feel dampened by just how much is eventually shown and explained instead of leaving an element of mystery and suspense in regards to just what lies in the cramped and littered confines of the tunnels. Barbarian is a generally good film, however it could be a truly great horror if it didn’t explore the source of some of its tension as much as it does throughout its run-time.
It may feel dampened by feeling overstuffed in exploring certain elements of the core threat a bit too much, however there’s still a fair deal of tension to be found within Barbarian as it remains engaging whilst travelling along its course.