Movie review: 'Barbarian' is a totally terrifying surprise

Keith (Bill Skarsgard) arrived at the Airbnb first. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios
1 of 5 | Keith (Bill Skarsgard) arrived at the Airbnb first. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 7 (UPI) -- In a world in which we can see anything in movies and television, pulling off a truly unpredictable story feels like an added feat. Barbarian, in theaters Friday, is so unpredictable that to get too specific would constitute spoilers.

Tess (Georgina Campbell) arrives at an Airbnb that already is occupied by Keith (Bill Skarsgard). It is a very relatable new-booking dilemma.


Keith insists that Tess stay and take the bed, and there are no hotel options, anyway, because of a convention.

Tess and Keith have a valid discussion about how women are more vulnerable in situations like this, and how she'd have to assume the worst about Keith to protect herself, but they connect in a conversation that foreshadows the horror to come.

The first night together is creepy enough, when Tess hears sounds coming from Keith on the couch. But it ramps up when Tess locks herself in the basement without her phone.


What Tess discovers in the basement keeps unfolding, becoming more disturbing the further she goes. The viewer just wants her to leave at a very early point, but the film gives her plausible reasons for stepping a bit further.

The main reason is compassion. She doesn't just want to abandon Keith.

It's easy to think we would leave a sketchy house, leaving behind someone we just met. But, Keith makes it awkward for her to leave in that way people have of reassuring them not to follow their instincts.

Then, the whole basement scenario unfolds again from the perspective of A.J. (Justin Long), a disgraced Hollywood director who returns to his property to prepare it for sale. As compelling as Tess's journey was, it is brilliant how a different person can interpret the same sketchy basement.

A lot of the unpredictability of Barbarian revolves around the unpredictability of human beings. Humans make questionable decisions in the best of times.

They make even worse ones in a crisis. Barbarian plays upon the shocking ways people can surprise in their decision-making. It certainly plays with expectations for Skarsgard in a horror movie, too.

Writer-director Zach Cregger built a world of horror that sets up everything that will pay off before any character enters the basement. Only one clue from the first act appears to be a total red herring.


Elements of what Tess and company find bear stylistic hints of horror classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes and The Evil Dead. It is an unpredictable mashup, with Fangoria-worthy makeup and kills.

If any of Barbarian sounds interesting to you, it is best to go in as blind as you can. Few pieces of entertainment in 2022 are truly unknown quantities anymore, and that should be preserved and celebrated.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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