Barbarian ★★★

Delightfully devilish for the hour or so that Cregger plays it like a Whitest Kids U Know episode gone wrong (the first big “twist” is almost literally just a wraparound gag), not unlike the oft-discussed stylistic continuity between Key & Peele and Get Out. It’s tense, funny, and frequently both at once—one particular scene had me laughing out loud immediately before getting scared so badly that I spilled popcorn all over myself. True story!

Now, before you misunderstand me, I’m not saying Barbarian needed to be a horror-comedy all the way through. Even its good parts aren’t all in that mode! What I will say is that Cregger seems to work best in a particular framework of situational irony, which lends itself well to both comedy and certain types of horror. (In a sense, the only-sane-man hilarity of a skit like “Grapist Commercial” plays on the same human instincts as many of the “don’t go in there!” moments of Barbarian’s rising action. We know something’s wrong, and it psychs us out that they don’t know the same.) Crucially, though, Barbarian’s “big shift” also shifts the film out of its director’s wheelhouse, making it clear that he doesn’t quite know how to handle a more straightforward style of horror film. Cregger, to his credit, does everything he can to try and bridge the gap, throwing out a near-relentless onslaught of genre signifiers both classic and modern (the old ones sort of work, the new ones really don’t), but it wasn’t enough to keep me from leaving the theater feeling like the emperor had no clothes. Which is completely untrue! He had splendid clothes! He was modeling them for most of the movie!

But now it’s time for the real question: how long until we get Tim Robinson, Horror Auteur?

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