Barbarian: A New Cult Classic or a Horror Film Failure?


Prior to watching, I thought that Barbarian would be a classic indie horror film. Based on the few trailers I saw along with some notable cast members, such as Bill Skarsgård—most known for his role in the adaptation of It and his character in The Devil All the Time— and Black Mirror actress, Georgina Campbell, I thought Barbarian was going to be a psychological thriller with a predictable villain and victim relationship. I was ready to be spoon fed a horror film about a young woman ignoring red flags and reaping the deadly consequences. Based on the reactions of the few people in the theater, as well as several tweets, most viewers had similar expectations regarding the movie… but wow were our expectations wrong.

Barbarian might be one of the boldest films I have seen in a long time. First time solo director, Zach Cregger, managed to write a film incomparable to any horror movie I’ve ever seen. The first thing he mastered in this movie was the plot. Originally, I thought Barbarian was going to tell the story of a young woman, Tess, who is preyed upon by her AirBNB roommate, Keith. While Cregger built this plot line for a decent amount of the film, he took a 180 half way through the film, giving the viewers whiplash. Right at the peak of this plot line—THE scary moment that I’d been begging for— the screen cut to a completely new character having a joy ride in California. While watching, I have to admit, I was confused but also angry—I was ready to finally see something that would make me jump, but instead Justin Long was thrown onto screen and with him a completely new plot line. It not only kept me interested but also in anticipation. By teasing the horror and then immediately delving into a new plot arc, Cregger was able to do something most modern horror films fail to do: grab the viewer’s attention throughout the whole movie.

While his plot was nothing short of creative, Cregger’s use of characters is what truly makes Barbarian a dynamic horror film. Although it would’ve been easy to portray the protagonist, Tess, as an ignorant, naive woman who was too trusting of a stranger, Cregger again refused to give into the expected. Tess is in fact the smartest and strongest character in the whole film. Despite staying with a stranger, Tess took every action in the beginning of the film to protect herself. Through Tess’s strength and vigilance, Cregger creates a surprising yet like-able protagonist. In contrast, Cregger’s implementation of AJ evoked nothing but pure anger in me. Whereas I wanted Tess to come out of the AirBNB unscathed, I can’t say I had the same hope for AJ. And just when I thought Cregger had maxed out on the use of complex characters he took the antagonist, a traditional menacing monster, and created a complex relationship between it and Tess, where he forces his audience to perceive monsters in a different light than most horror movies do.

Never before have I watched a horror movie and left the theater feeling remorseful for the villain. Being able to make his viewers empathize with Mama is Cregger’s biggest feat. The development of Mama till the very last shot, along with the many sub storylines forces the viewer to rethink about the way they initially perceived the movie and its conflict. Although it’s perplexing and just straight up weird at many points, Barbarian is definitely worth the watch. Zach Cregger managed to direct an original horror movie that didn’t feel like it was trying too hard to be deep or overly cinematic: a refreshing rarity in today’s horror film scene. Barbarian is simply just a creepy, digestible horror film and is definitely worth a trip to the theater.