Barbarian ★★★½

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

This review may contain spoilers.

Without being wildly original, it’s unpredictable. There’s an interesting structural component to the way it keeps resetting the narrative. It’s also willing to shift gears and play in different sub-categories of horror. It’s got some psychological thriller, some haunted house, some creature feature, some Texas Chainsaw vibes, and it approaches everything with a sense of humor (without totally undercutting the material’s impact). It's genuinely funny – the attempt to gauge the dungeon basement’s square footage is one of the best comedy sequences I’ve seen in a while. It indulges in cliches / classic tropes, with Mother being a monster with pathos (whose strength doesn’t make sense from a logical perspective, but it works within the genre). It also tweaks the standard formulas and plays with expectations. The house is an excellent bit of non-descript set design; it’s a believably, pleasantly bland AirBnB that plays on the mildly unsettling sensation of waking up in a strange house (this film stuck with me on my first post-Barbarian AirBnB). Shout outs to the casting of Skarsgard (another great play with expectations based on his persona) and Long’s character. The film does a great job presenting a horrible person who thinks he’s a good guy. I like that the film plays with giving him a classic redemption, then snatches it away and punishes him.
While I did like the different reveals of the neighborhood, I wish the film was more thoughtful in its use of Detroit. There’s room in the setup for dealing with the city’s racial dynamic and gentrification, but the film goes a basic and stereotypical route, exploiting it as a backdrop where anything can happen because of infrastructural decay and as an environment manifesting corrupted family dynamics.

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