Okay, so if you are searching for Barbarian on Amazon, do not accidentally search their catalog for Barbarians–plural, with an S. Because that movie does actually exist, and it’s a relatively recent release, and if you don’t know anything about either, it’s easy enough to mistake one for the other and accidentally purchase an AMC+ membership so that you can watch a film that wasn’t even the one you wanted to watch in the first place. Doh!
It’s okay though, because I was really entranced by that first free episode of Interview with the Vampire, and had resigned myself to having to pay for the service anyway!
So…just to be clear and if you need some visual cues for your brain to latch on to–Barbarian has Bill Skarsgård and Barbarians has Ramsay Bolton from GoT, and I don’t know about you, but the practices of the cruel and beastly House Bolton, Ramsay in particular, freaked me out so badly that I NEVER want to see anything else with that actor in it. I can’t even look at his face.
The Barbarian trailer, refreshingly, doesn’t give away the whole story, and I love this one reviewer’s succinct synopsis: “two strangers explore a basement.” I mean…that is accurate, I guess! As we begin to see in the trailer, Tess has come to Detroit for an interview and she arrives at her AirBnB to find it already occupied by Keith (Skarsgård.) What follows is horrifying in an awkward and uncomfortable sense, and if you are someone who cringes at these exchanges, then you will just want to crawl right out of your skin. Neither one of them are in the wrong, and both of them have the right to be pissed, but as a woman, Tess’ situation is more fraught, because she is a woman alone at night in a particularly sketchy part of town, in a situation with a man who is complete stranger. Also, that stranger is Bill Skarsgård, so I think we as viewers are already feeling tense and stressed for Tess, because when does anything good ever come from an encounter with that guy? He’s bending over backward in these scenes to come off as polite and unthreatening, and to put her at ease– and it’s really just amping up the tension and having the complete opposite effect. I typically don’t consider casting in my evaluation of these films, but he was such an excellent choice. During these scenes, I found myself having to look away from the screen even more than I might during a slasher film gore-fest, it just pushed all of my social anxiety buttons. I was actually wishing and hoping for a monster to come rampaging in and begin ripping them limb from limb!
The tension is eventually diffused, they spend a weird and restless night in the house, and the next day Tess does actually make it to the interview. I don’t think it’s lost on us that Tess, a black woman, has come to Detroit to interview with a white woman documentarian for a project about jazz that she is working on. That’s a sentence of things to think about. The neighborhood where the AirBnB is located is an absolute atrocity, worse than we could have imagined from our initial nocturnal glimpse of it. Yet Tess goes back to the house. She hears some noises and heads down to the basement, looking for Keith. She gets locked in, finds a secret door, and not only goes through it (NO TESS!) but finds a series of other doors and goes through them, too. And there’s some really disturbing shit down there! Panicked, she makes her way back to the main basement room, and luckily Keith is outside and is able to pull her out through a window. AND THEN THEY GO BACK DOWN TO THE BASEMENT. Oh, Keith. Oh, Tess.
I won’t say anything more than that. This was the sort of film-watching experience where I could actually hear my own heart thudding in my ribcage, it really did trigger a fight or flight response. Interestingly, at key points when things were getting really bananas, the scene would cut to something, or somewhen else entirely, from the horrors of that basement to Justin Long driving along the coast in his convertible (turns out he is the current owner of that property), to an idyllic suburban scene where we learn a bit about the previous (?) owner of the house. These changes in scenery give you a chance to breathe and gather your bearings, as you’re gathering new information and maybe piecing together what is happening.
This is the sort of film where, as you’re in the midst of watching it, you feel like you’re given just enough to think…”ok, I see the fuzzy logic in how we’re making it from point A to point B here”. But immediately after you’ve watched it, you’re like HUH?? At any rate, that’s how I felt.
Have you seen Barbarian? (Or Barbarians?) I’d love to know what you thought of this one!
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