Barbarian is a horror thriller which stands out from the pack. It follows Tess (Georgina Campbell) who travels to Detroit for a job interview. Arriving at night she discovers her AirBnB rental property is already occupied by Keith (Bill Skarsgård). Surprising at first it appears to be an accidental double booking and the two eventually hit it off. The next day, while Keith is out, Tess explores rental and becomes accidentally locked in the basement. Down there she finds much much more than she bargains for. It becomes clear there are many unsettling things about this house other than an unexpected guest.

Where to even begin or how to even approach such a bonkers film? In short I do not think I have jumped between liking and disliking a movie so many times. Barbarian is best approached with a completely open mind and as little prior information as possible. In fact I believe the trailers and even the poster itself do the audience a disservice in spoilers.

Barbarian is the brainchild of Writer/Director Zack Cregger. A main cast member of subversive comedy series “The Whitest Kids U’Know’. Myself having some knowledge of that series had I caught Cregger’s name I may have had some hint of what to expect here. It makes sense that someone known for such outside of the box comedy would approach horror in a similar way.

That is the greatest strength of Barbarian, it’s unpredictability. Cregger has crafted a film which surprises at every turn in a genre stagnant with conventionality. It is at different times scary, funny, shocking, weird and intriguing. Jumping between these extremes with ease making it a highly entertaining experience if you stick with it.

On the negative side of this is that the film lacks much consistency. This applies to it’s characters but especially to it’s themes. There is no steady through line with the movie shifting gears as often as it does. Yes this scene is scary/funny/weird etc but does it connect thematically or even at times narratively with the scene which precedes or follows it? Not always.

Supposedly this film started out as a 30 minute short and expanded from there. In trying to avoid spoilers I can definitely see this as that’s about when the film goes off the rails. I cant help but think perhaps Barbarian would have worked better as an anthology film. Several shorts based around this house of horrors may have allowed for the outlandish tonal shifts more comfortably. Then again perhaps not as Cregger does have such a fun movie as it is. As I said I went between liking and disliking this wild ride frequently.

It definitely takes a long time for the film to get started. This is made bearable thanks to the film’s lead actors however. Skarsgård is of course best known for his portrayal of Pennywise in Stephen King’s IT. He brings that same underlying creepiness here even when playing such a ‘normal’ character. Campbell is fascinating as the woman pushed to further and further extremes. While genre favourites Justin Long & Richard Brake are brilliant in roles best left to be discovered upon viewing.

I must mention the brilliant cinematography by Zach Kuperstein. Having worked on the similarly claustrophobic ‘haunted house’ movie The Vigil this is somewhat familiar ground for him. But he also makes a perfect fit for Cregger’s almost schizophrenic storyline, shifting styles visually as the film shifts tonally.

Barbarian despite my reservations regarding its plot and characters is an entertaining film above all else. My theatre was full of people having a hell of a good time and what more can you ask for? Much like some of the best horror films it is their unconventionality which sets them apart. In that respect Barbarian is one of the most unique films in the genre.