Barbarian ★★★★

"Detroit is the new Transylvania," as Kurt Halfyard wrote in his review of Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive.

It's a sentiment I heard echoed on a podcast about It Follows, and it certainly applies to a film like Don't Breathe (which Barbarian reminded me of in certain ways). Detroit is a desolate, haunted wasteland where all manner of horrors, both human and supernatural, can flourish unchecked. Just as Jonathan Harker is warned by innkeepers not to go to the Borgo Pass in Bram Stoker's Dracula, Tess Marshall (Georgina Campbell) is warned not to stay at an Airbnb in Brightmoor, a mostly abandoned Detroit neighborhood of empty, rotting houses.

I think all the reviews of Barbarian that warned me to go in completely blind might have been overselling the film. The first half, in which Tess shows up at a tidy little suburban house on a block of condemned properties, is a masterpiece of discomfort and tension. There's been a mixup, and another person (played by Bill Skarsgård) is already staying at the house. Is he kind or a creep? Is he a little of both? Is it honestly a mixup or is something more sinister going on?

Yes, there is an abrupt shift in the film to introduce Justin Long's character, but he ties neatly into the action back in Michigan, and by the end I couldn't help feeling that I'd seen a very well-made but not wildly unique or "bonkers" film, which is what I'd been led to believe this was.

Barbarian is well-made, well-acted, genuinely disturbing in parts, and has a great final song over the credits that made me wonder if writer-director Zach Cregger started with the song and worked backwards. It wasn't quite the wildly unique film I was expecting, but it's a very solid and scary ride, and that's always welcome.

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