A movie like Barbarian irritates me because there was a great concept with a great beginning that is suddenly lost in the second half due to a character and an absurd plot turn. Even though said character is supposed to be obnoxious, I felt that they are given too much screen time that it destroys the set up. For what it’s worth, Barbarian could have been a great B-movie horror flick if the filmmaker had just worked a little harder.
Zack Cregger, a comedian who co-founded The Whitest Kids U’Know, helms the movie as both writer and director. And at first, it looks like he has crafted a very thrilling movie. It is set mostly around a decaying Detroit neighborhood where a young woman, Tess Marshall (Georgina Campbell), arrives at a house to stay in an AirBnB while she is interviewing for a job the next day. It’s pouring down rain and she discovers after some trying that there is no key in the electronic lock box.
She makes a phone call to the company and has to leave a message. But as she sits in her car pondering what to do next, a light comes on. She rushes to the door and sees a young man, Keith Toshko (Bill Skargard), through the window and knocks on the door. Half asleep and confused, he answers only for them to both discover the house has been double-booked through two different parties. He offers her to come in out of the rain.
Cregger stages this set-up with a lot of mystery that it makes us wonder what’s going on. Did Keith really book it or is something going on with Tess? After some unease and confusion, Keith suggests Tess stay in the bedroom while he crashes on the couch. The next day, they’ll get this worked out, he suggests. But she says she can only sleep in clean sheets. So, he washes them for her. As they wait, they drink over a wine bottle left and talk getting to know each other.
It seems that Cregger is taking this movie in a certain direction we’ve seen before. Since Skarsgard has been cast as Pennywise in the It movies, we’re kinda wondering if Keith is being honest as too much he is saying seems too good to be true and too skeptical such as he seems to recognize the phone number Tess is saying and cuts her off like he knows what it is. After going to bed, Tess hears some noises and Keith is whimpering in his sleep.
Tess has a good job interview but the interviewer is concerned about where she is staying. In daylight, the neighborhood looks worse. As she returns to the house, she is chased by a homeless man, Andre (Jaymes Butler). She makes it into the house safely, but when looking in basement, she finds a secret room that looks like someone has been held captive. Keith is not there. And she realizes the basement door has locked behind her and she’s stuck.
From where I can’t say much more, but the movie takes it down a different route some people might not expect. Now, the movie could’ve done a great job with this direction as it switches to southern Calfornia about two weeks later. We’re introduced to A.J. Gilbride (Justin Long), a sitcom actor, who learns he’s been investigation on allegations of rape of an actress. His financial advisor warns him that in three months, he will be depleted of funds but does have a house in Detroit that he could sell.
And you know what house it is? He flies to Detroit to consider putting the house on the market but discovers the personal belongings of Keith as well clothing bags belonging to both Tess and Keith. He learns that two weeks earlier the house was used for an AirBnB but it hasn’t been used since then. As he discovers the secret room in the basement, he realizes that the extra room on the house could up the resell value.
The character of A.J. is so obnoxious that you really don’t care what happens to him, but only learn that he’s in the movie a lot longer than he needs to be. And there’s a lot of questions to be left that aren’t answered. How could someone go missing for two weeks especially from another city and state and there’s no search or at least a welfare check if they knew their last location? Did no one bother to check up on the AirBnB to see if people checked out? Did Tess have a rental car or did she drive to the house? If it’s a rental, why is it still outside the house and not been reported stolen? If it’s her car, why don’t the cops run the plate on it?
Cregger makes an ambitious movie but he leaves too many unanswered questions that the second half just doesn’t seem as plausible. I know movies are about supension of disbelief but there’s so much in here that doesn’t make sense in the second half. Produced on a budget of $4.5 million, the movie has made at least 10 times that amount which is impressive. And it has a 92 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, even though I think they’re more focused on the set-up than the pay-off.
Even at 107 minutes with credits, Cregger probably felt some explanation to some of these questions might have drawn the movie out more. I would’ve rather seen a clever way to explain these questions than to deal with the obnoxious A.J. chewing scenery for longer than he should. We really do care for Tess and Keith. But Cregger thinks we should care too much are A.J. Also the introduction of Frank (Richard Brake), a previous owner of the house who is crucial to the story, so late in the movie feels almost like a cheat.
I’ll commend Cregger for making a movie where we don’t really know what’s going on and pulling a Janet Leigh/Psycho moment by having us think a character is going to be more crucial to the plot than they are. However, he probably should’ve worked a little harder on a more coherent story.
What do you think? Please comment.