Barbarian

Barbarian ★★★★

Lately, my son has been refining his aesthetic of the kind of movie that he considers a "genuinely scary movie." He has a few touchstone movies which he uses to try to get this across — The Descent is one, for example — and I keep saying, "Okay, there's only one The Descent [or The Ritual, or Hereditary], tell me the qualities you're looking for." There's the setting, the pace, the characters, the lore... when all the indices line up right, he can immerse himself and have that scary experience.

With older movies, the staginess of the performances and the lower fidelity of the image distances him from the film and leaves him outside the story (a black and white film, or a silent film, is a non-starter). The wrong kind of jump scares emphasize artifice and also distance him. There have to be some sympathetic characters and too slow a slow burn will lose him. For an example, I recently showed him one of my favorites, A Dark Song, but it didn't really land, because it didn't devote much energy to ingratiating the characters to the audience, the lore felt thin to him (its a film that requires the viewer to fill in a lot of blanks) and it's a very long buildup before anything remotely scary happens. Also, he could largely anticipate where it would go. He dislikes predictability.

The main thing you need to know about Barbarian is that my son turned to me, about 20 min into the film, and whispered, "This is it. This is what I mean. This is scary."

And it wasn't just him. I was delighted. I thought I couldn't get more excited for the start of Hooptober today, but for real, this goosed me right in the spot where my excitement about the genre lives.

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