It’s not easy nowadays for an original, low-budget film to achieve mainstream success. In a time when theaters are regularly flooded with superhero movies and high-profile, brand-name blockbusters, the chances of original, smaller titles being able to catch the attention of moviegoers have become disappointingly slim. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for a new film to come along and become a surprise, breakout hit.
As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what Barbarian did earlier this year. Director Zach Cregger’s gonzo horror thriller came out of nowhere in early September and quickly started earning the kind of word-of-mouth praise that most filmmakers dream of. At the time, the line that everyone seemed to repeat whenever they recommended Barbarian was, “Go see it knowing as little as possible.”
It’s not hard to see why that form of recommendation became so popular. Barbarian is one of the most shocking horror thrillers that has come along in recent years, and the best way to see it for the first time is by going in knowing as little as possible about what secrets are contained within its relatively tight 103-minute runtime.
Fortunately, if you missed it while it was in theaters, Barbarian is now available to stream on HBO Max. Here’s why Inverse recommends that you check it out ASAP.
Barbarian begins, as it should, on a rainy night. The film’s opening moments follow Tess (Georgina Campbell) as she arrives at her Detroit Airbnb only to discover that the house in question has been double-booked when Keith (Bill Skarsgård) opens the door. Tess is essentially kept on her toes for the 20 minutes that follow as she’s forced to not only sleep in the same Airbnb as a man she’s never met before but also determine for herself whether or not Keith is as harmless as he claims to be.
While everything seems to go well for Tess that night, things take a turn for the worse the next day when she discovers a hidden tunnel in the house’s basement. Where Barbarian goes from there is, quite frankly, best left unspoiled. To say that the film takes a few jaw-dropping turns throughout its second and third acts, however, would be a major, major understatement.
To its credit, Cregger’s screenplay for Barbarian wears its influences on its sleeve. The film’s perspective-hopping, delightfully non-linear structure feels uniquely indebted to the works of Quentin Tarantino, while its darkly comic, absurdly terrifying tone feels like something that could only have been achieved in a post-Sam Raimi world. Barbarian’s ability to make viewers feel like they’re totally immersed within the confined walls of its central, pitch-black tunnels also gives the film the same kind of visceral edge as, say, 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
But beneath all of Barbarian’s various homages to the horror and thriller classics that have come before it is a well-crafted and audacious genre film. For as many turns as it takes, Barbarian is never anything but totally entertaining, and that’s a testament to Cregger’s control as both writer and director. Whether he’s trying to make you laugh, scream, or both at the same time, Cregger always seems to know where to put his camera and how long to draw out each moment of tension or humor.
In case that doesn’t seem like reason enough to check out Barbarian, the film also features a scene-stealing performance from Justin Long that is truly one for the ages. As is the case with basically everything in Barbarian, though, the less that’s said here about his role in the film, the better.
Barbarian is available to stream now on HBO Max.