The grisly events in “Barbarian,” a new house rental horror film now playing in theatres, are a better advertisement for staying in a hotel than anything the Canadian Hotel & Lodging Association could have dreamed up.
The story begins with Tess (Georgina Campbell) pulling up in front of an Airbnb in the rundown neighborhood of Brightmoor in Detroit. Turns out, the only house on the block without broken windows or a kicked-in front door, is doubled booked, and Keith (Bill Skarsgård), is already settled in. She booked on Airbnb, he booked on another site, wires were crossed, but instead of sending her out in the rain to find another place to stay, he invites her in. You take the bed, he says, I’ll sleep on the coach. She reluctantly agrees, won over by his charm and seemingly good-guy vibes.
After lights out, strange things happen. At first, it’s creepy but explainable, like creaky old doors that open and close by themselves, but, the next day, when she goes to the basement to retrieve some supplies, the house reveals a dark secret.
Cut to Los Angeles, present day, and the worst moment of self-involved television star AJ Gilbride’s (Justin Long) life. Accused of sexual impropriety by a co-star, he’s fired from his show and is the subject of an exposé in the Hollywood Reporter. His career in tatters and his bank account running dry, he decides to sell off assets, including an Airbnb property he owns in Brightmoor, Detroit. “I’m not here on vacation,” he tells his lawyer as he lands in Michigan. “I’m here for some liquidity.”
As the story of Tess and AJ collide, “Barbarian” takes one last left turn, this time to Detroit, circa the Reagan years, with the origin story of the innocent looking house’s evil.
“Barbarian” is an audacious thriller with a heaping handful of solid scares. Director Zach Cregger zigs and zags, trusting the audience to hang on for the wild ride. It’s worth the trip. The tense atmosphere of Tess and Keith’s story gives way to AJ’s MeToo cautionary tale and the sinister origin story before throwing it all into the hopper to create a genre-busting final third act. Nothing is off the table as the movie tackles the worst of human nature, narcissism, murder and even incest. It’s a heady mix that should have you moving toward the edge of your seat.
“Barbarian” is one of the rare, recent horror movies that truly keeps the viewer off balance throughout. It’s never clear where the story is going, and that off-the-hook storytelling keeps the creepy story compelling. It’s a roller coaster in which only one thing is clear: Never rent an Airbnb built over a catacomb.