Barbarian ★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

The nerve-shredding first act had me in the palm of its hand, and by the time Justin Long’s tape-measure appeared, Barbarian was operating with such tremendous confidence that I was certain I was watching a new, modern-day horror classic in progress. Unfortunately, having successfully pulled off one big rug-pull at the end of the first act (practically a genre swap), Barbarian pivots again heading into the third, but this time it doesn’t go so well...

Brass tacks. The film’s final act monster-movie shenanigans are mostly awful – tension-free and almost movie-killing – with scripting, acting and staging all suffering a precipitous drop-off in quality and effectiveness from the phenomenal set-up. It’s sub-Raimi slurry, and the most shocking thing about any of it was how little I cared about Long’s (theoretically cathartic) final moments.

It's no great insight to observe that some horror movies can struggle to live up to the promise of their set-ups (what Stephen King once termed the “zipper-down-the-back-of-the-monster” problem), but the differential here is massive – a genuine four-star first act with the chains of a one-star final act wrapped around its ankles like an anchor. The strongest sections make Barbarian worthy of a recommendation, but if my final star rating feels like an untidy, unsatisfactory summation of my wildly variable experience, then (shrug) I'd say that's fitting.

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