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Review: ‘Barbarian’ shocks, surprises with horror that hits home

“Barbarian” is a new horror movie about a young woman who travels to Detroit for a big job interview and rented a home online to stay for the night, only to find when she gets there in the pitch black of night that a man has booked the same home online and is already staying there.

"Barbarian" movie poster
"Barbarian" is a new horror movie playing at the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter. The motion picture about unsuspecting and unwanted guests has been received positively by critics and audiences.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch
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BAXTER — Rarely do professional movie critics and audiences agree. But the new horror movie “Barbarian” at Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter is one they agree on for a good scare.

“Barbarian” holds a 92% approval rating among hard-to-please critics and a 70% approval rating among audiences at Rotten Tomatoes, a review-aggregation website for film and television.

Personally, I love horror films, in part because I believe nothing is as scary on the big screen as an adult trying to navigate real life in these challenging, and perhaps dystopian, times.

“Barbarian” begins innocently and unsuspectingly enough with a young woman named Tess, played convincingly by Georgina Campbell, arriving at a Detroit rental house booked online.

Arriving in the dead of night — no pun intended — Tess surprisingly discovers Keith, a young man played by Bill Skarsgård, already making himself at home, which he claims he also rented.

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A single-residence home by itself in an area with overgrown grass and weeds.
A single-residence home on an apparently abandoned lot is surrounded by uncut grass and weeds.
Contributed / Daniel Tuttle via Unsplash.com

Tess is naturally unsettled, unsure and uncomfortable at the prospect of the stranger lodging at what was supposed to be her overnight accommodations before her job interview the next day.

Keith also appears confused and befuddled at the comely stranger who suddenly appeared at his doorstep with luggage in hand and who is also claiming she rented the home, too.

Keith invites Tess to come inside the house, however, not only to escape the dark and rainy night but also for her safety; he claims it is a bad neighborhood where the house is located.

Tess is a modern-day woman, however, so she only reluctantly accepts what appears to be Keith’s gracious offer as they attempt to sort out their situation or figure out what to do next.

“Why don’t you just crash here? It’s dry and there’s a lock on the door,” Keith eventually and cautiously suggests to Tess. “You take the bedroom, and I’ll sleep out here on the couch.”

Tess initially declines the apparently chivalrous Keith and attempts to find an area hotel to stay at instead. But she’s out of luck because supposedly there is a convention in town, Keith says.

Against her better judgment and with little time before her important job interview in the morning, Tess agrees to share the home with Keith, who seems affable and likable by most accounts.

Unable to go to sleep right away because of the highly unusual circumstances, Tess and Keith remain awake and talk, and soon the attractive couple finds themselves drawn to one another.

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In fact, the opening scenes of the nearly two-hour film might lure moviegoers, as it did I, into a false sense of security or wonder if they are instead watching some “meet-cute” of a rom-com.

Frank Lee
Frank Lee

But there are some signs when they do go to bed (separately) that things are not as they seem, with Tess waking at one point to discover her bedroom door open and Keith having nightmares.

The R-rated motion picture by writer-director Zach Cregger is pleasantly filled with red herrings, and plot twists before culminating in a truly off-the-rails third act one probably won’t see coming.

Well-known actor Justin Long, for example, is not introduced to audiences in “Barbarian” until much later, despite being the biggest name arguably in the relatively young cast.

His character of a struggling actor facing personal and professional challenges seems to have little to do with the run-down Detroit neighborhood Tess and Keith find themselves in as renters.

The film’s switch in focus to actor A.J., the Detroit native played by Long, almost seems to come out of left field and made me wonder if somehow I was watching another movie altogether.

MORE MOVIE COLUMNS BY FRANK LEE:
“See How They Run” is a satiric Agatha Christie-like mystery/thriller of a whodunit costarring Sam Rockwell as a boozy inspector, and Saoirse Ronan as an enthusiastic rookie constable trying to solve the murder of a crew of a popular play in 1950s London.

Long has starred before in another horror movie called “Tusk,” a 2014 bonkers of a body horror film by writer-director Kevin Smith, who is probably widely known for his “Clerks” film franchise.

The plot of “Tusk” centers around the physical transformation of Long into a walrus by a madman. But Long’s transformation from A.J. in “Barbarian” to who he becomes is shocking, too.

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As a movie buff, it is hard to find a horror movie that will surprise me with the unconventionality of “Barbarian.” Add on top of that good acting, and some would say “Barbarian” is a real winner.

The consensus from the critics at RottenTomatoes.com: “Smart, darkly humorous, and above all scary, ‘Barbarian’ offers a chilling and consistently unpredictable thrill ride for horror fans.”

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bdfilmforum .

Related Topics: MOVIESTHINGS TO DO BRAINERDBAXTER
I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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