It would be silly to think that in the year 2022 life wouldn’t somehow become an imitation of that childhood trauma (or, for the very few, memory) of playing Monopoly and realizing you never were the one with the gazillion hotels on Boardwalk. You just had the one house on States Avenue, so your days are numbered and the game is over, but you refuse to admit defeat until you just throw the board across the room, stomp your feet, and whip out Hungry Hungry Hippos instead, which requires literally no brain power and only the excessive smashing of a white lever that opens a hippo’s mouth to eat pieces. There is a point to this madness, I swear. It’s like movie studios now; there are only a handful of the major players out there anymore, and with some of the behemoths able to just completely eat and absorb some lesser behemoths, it changes the landscape, and not necessarily for the better.
Walt Disney Company bought 20th Century Fox, including their back catalogue (please movie Jesus let Disney release Alien (1979), The Terminator (1984), True Lies (1994), etc. on 4K or license them out), and anything they had in the pipeline went under the Disney umbrella. That included some interesting choices, such as the murder mystery, See How They Run (2022) and the horror flick Barbarian, neither of which have any form of actual confirmed physical releases (boo!). However, much like almost every other studio now, pressured to only have 30-45 day theatrical windows before throwing the film up onto one of their own platforms (Hulu, HBO Max, Disney+ etc.) the need to make money at the box office is more important than ever. However, it is a dangerous slope, because insulting your viewer by presuming they won’t be intrigued by original, interesting horror is a mistake, but giving away the entire movie in snippets and/or trailers is a huge mistake and is detrimental to the movie. So, with that being said, I saw Barbarian for the first time without seeing as much as a teaser, not knowing Justin Long (Tusk) was in it, or truly any of the creepiness that lays within the film. And, having seen the marketing behind it now, it truly does take away some of the suspense and shock value as going in as blind as a bat is the ultimate way to experience the horrors that lay within Barbarian.
The movie focuses on Tess (Georgina Campbell) who’s in a rough, seemingly abandoned part of Detroit as she is renting out an AirBnB as she is going to an interview to help a documentarian on her new project. Upon arriving to her AirBnB, the code she was given to access the key and, thereby, the house, is wrong and she is unable to contact anyone. She resorts back to her car until she sees someone is inside the house. She approaches the house again, this time for Keith (Bill Skarsgård) to open the door. It soon becomes evident that the AirBnB got double-booked and they are forced to share the AirBnB, two complete strangers, in a dark sketchy part of town. Totally normal, right? Some spooky things start to happen, and without giving away anything, not everyone and everything is as they appear. Tess goes into the basement and discovers a creepy hidden passageway, and this is when everything takes a turn for the horrifying.
What works in Zach Cregger’s writing and directing this horror film, is that he refuses to play to the norms. There are so many shock-and-awe moments that happen throughout Barbarian that keep the audience at the edge of their seat as well as some genuine moments that catch the audience straight off-guard. Right as the audience learns what terrors lay within this abandoned passageway, the movie cuts to mid-broad daylight and introduces us to AJ (Justin Long), and thereby introducing us to a secondary monster of sorts. Again, we’re not going to spoil the mysteries and the fun that is buried within Barbarian, but it is such a jarring tonal shift that the movie does not once, but twice, that it elevates the movie while also serving as a moment to catch your breath.
What also works incredibly well in Barbarian are the performances from the cast, including Justin Long and Bill Skarsgård, the latter who is known for his horror and genuine terror. Long also plays a little, but not totally out of character and has one scene in the movie that is so outrageous and outlandish it has become a meme and is one of the funnier things on the internet. However, it is the performance by Georgina Campbell, who starts off defying all horror tropes and doesn’t plan on being a victim of the tropes and then forgoes her ingenuity and becomes a trope later on in the film, but that truly stands out and shines throughout the movie.
With the digital release now being available to stream on HBO Max (weird that its not Hulu as it is a Disney property, but alas) and Disney+ internationally, the 4K stream certainly looks exquisite, but only with the digital purchased copy through Movies Anywhere (and presumably Google Play, Vudu, Apple, YouTube etc.) do you get the Dolby Vision and 5.1 audio choices, only the HD being available on Disney+. So for those media purists and collectors who do not prefer to watch a stream over a disk, as a plea, please, Disney, give us this original horror movie that is downright excellent a physical release on 4K with DV 7.1 and any other goodies you can possibly think of, and, of course, hopefully, a commentary, because that would be a very fun little bonus feature for the fans of this fantastic horror movie.
Barbarian Special Features*:
- Behind Barbarian – Director Zach Cregger and the cast and crew discuss both the unique and familiar horror elements that make Barbarian terrifying and reveal the inspiration behind the horrific tale.
- Four (4) Deleted Scenes
*Bonus features vary by product and retailer
Barbarian is streaming on HBO Max in the United States, Disney+ internationally, and can be purchased on most digital platforms beginning October 25th, 2022.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.