Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t go into the basement. Don’t go inside secret dark and underground passageways inside the basement.
Bad things happen when these basic horror movie safety rules are broken.
But “Barbarian” — a must-watch for fans of “Black Mirror” and “The Twilight Zone” — may not be what you’d expect.
The brilliance of “Barbarian” is in director/writer Zach Cregger’s engrossing, twisted, absurd and genre-bending script. It starts with what could have become a funny story or the beginnings of a meet-cute and ends with the eyes of evil and social commentary on what makes a monster.
It’s a dark and rainy night in Detroit and Tess Marshall’s (Georgina Campbell) Airbnb is double booked. No key in the lockbox. No answer when calling the owners of the Airbnb. Stranger Keith Toshko (Bill Skarsgård), who is renting the same one-story, single-bedroom house on 476 Barbary, answers the door.
Tess knows she shouldn’t go inside a house occupied by a man she doesn’t know. She knows she shouldn’t sleep inside a house occupied by a man she doesn’t know. Tess is smart and resourceful. But it’s pouring. No other hotel rooms are available. She needs a place to sleep before a job interview with a documentary filmmaker. What would you do?
“Barbarian” is skillfully directed, smartly cast and superbly acted. Skarsgård is famously known for playing the monster Pennywise the clown in the movie remakes of Stephen King’s “It.” You can’t help but think:
“Do I look like some kind of monster?” asks Skarsgård, who delivers a wonderfully endearing, rambling and disarming monologue about why he waited to open a bottle of wine.
Skarsgård and Campbell have great chemistry together. For a moment, you wonder if their characters could become more than strangers. Then you remember that their stories exist within the confines of a horror movie.
Justin Long, who plays actor AJ Gilbride (the less you know about his character and how he ties into the story, the better), embodies someone you’d love to punch in the face. His performance interjects comedy under terrifying situations.
Meanwhile, Campbell is vulnerable but capable as the film’s heroine and damsel. She’s someone audiences can easily root for and become attached to. You don’t question her intelligence even as Cregger’s screenplay forces Tess to break key “stranger danger” survival rules — slowly leading and trapping her inside an underground maze full of secrets and horrors.
“Barbarian” systematically rationalizes questionable character decisions, dismantling defenses with logic, an appeal to humanity and the promise of unearthing mysteries. Bible stories and fairy tales have taught us not to eat apples because they might be poisoned, but Cregger is the snake luring Tess and the viewers to step away from the safety of the garden of Eden and to take a bite from an apple growing from the tree of knowledge.
Bad things will happen. We can step away from the danger. But we don’t. “Barbarian” and the house on Barbary operates like a Pandora’s box we can’t help but open.