HBOMax's Barbarian Falls Flat

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Directed by Zach Cregger (in his solo directorial debut), Barbarian (2022) was released this September to rave critical reviews and became the sleeper hit of the after-summer movie, slump grossing over $42 million worldwide against a $4.5 million budget.

Recently released to HBO MAX for streaming, I finally got the chance to see what the hype was all about. Immediately, I was sucked into the opening plot: a young woman (Georgina Campbell) arrives at an Airbnb only to discover that the home was already rented out by another, a stranger named Keith (Bill Skarsgård). Having nowhere else to go, she stays at the rental property with him and strange things start to happen.

Now if the movie would have stayed with this red herring plot, it could have been a quite enjoyable film. Instead, it tries to merge at least three different subplots that attempt to further the story along and explain things but ultimately leave behind a mess with the viewer wondering: “Just what kind of movie am I watching?”

I would have loved to have seen a different version that left out all the unnecessary elements and stuck to a story about a man setting up unsuspecting women in his home and doing what a horror movie should do; instead we get a movie about a giant mutated woman lurking in a cellar treating her captives as babies, who is herself also being held captive by an 80-year-old bedridden man. Throw into the mix Justin Long playing an actor who has recently been “Me Too”-ed and has to liquidate his assets (one being the house in question) to have a woke, feel-good moment as he eventually meets his demise, and you have just downright lazy story telling.

With so many different stories to keep track of, you find yourself wondering where exactly in the film you are and what is the point of having characters who add little to no value to the overall tale. This is a prime example of the old saying: “KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID.”

Creeger also wrote the story as well as directed the film, and you can almost tell he was just throwing things at you on screen to see which ones stuck; but then he totally gets rid of what works just to add another confusing plot element that adds nothing but jump scare factors and gore shots.

I do see why people enjoyed the film. Heck, I was all in on the first 30 to 40 minutes. But I checked out soon after when I realized this was just another “inbred human living in a cellar” story that was all the rage back in the late 2000’s with films like Wrong Turn and the remake of The Hills Have Eyes. It ultimately falls flat and becomes something we have all seen before. I will, however, be looking forward to seeing how Creeger does with his next film. This was an OK first stab, and he has nowhere else to go but up from here.

Watch Barbarian on any of the streaming services listed here.

1.5 / 5.0