Georgina Campbell in Barbarian

Keith then offers Tess shelter from the storm; she can come inside while figuring out where she’ll stay instead… or she could even possibly spend the night. Despite her hesitation, she enters the house.

This was about all the original trailer for Barbarian showed of its storyline, and we advise avoiding the more recent marketing that 20th Century Studios has put out ahead of the movie’s arrival on  HBO Max and VOD/digital download. The fact is that Disney, which owns 20th Century, inherited the project from the Disney-Fox merger and intended to release Barbarian straight to streaming. However, the final film wound up being so compelling, and performed so absurdly well at test screenings, that Disney pivoted to a theatrical release.

The movie began building strong word of mouth at San Diego Comic-Con last July and despite being released at the beginning of September, it continued to play exceedingly well with audiences all the way into streaming release this week—earning $42 million off a $4 million budget.

That’s because Cregger has crafted one of the most entertaining horror movies of the last few years. Structurally, the film features twists and switchbacks, but it also cannily resembles something of a standup comedy set, with the narrative going down surprising detours (and even cul-de-sacs) while exploring an overarching theme… only this is primarily about why people should (or shouldn’t) trust and help others, even in nightmarish circumstances.

Much of this is buoyed by the film’s performances, particularly Campbell whose character is almost a litmus test for audiences. She is immediately suspicious of Keith and other developments in her strange home-sharing situation, yet she often makes what can be construed as morally right choices. In typical horror movies, such character interactions might be deemed as contrived, but in Barbarian, audiences are asked to view themselves as Tess, and to debate what is actually the right thing to do given what we know and what she doesn’t?

Also make no mistake that this is not intended to be mistaken as “elevated horror” (whatever that means). Barbarian is a thrilling, knotty, and even at times campy yarn that wishes to keep audiences always engrossed and incredibly anxious, be it due to unexpectedly dark humor or some truly horrifying images and ideas.

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