Barbarian | Third Space


Is this the scariest film of the year?
Mon 17 Oct 2022

4.5 out 5 stars

When Tess Marshall (Georgina Campbell) comes to Detroit for a potential new job, she tries to check into an Airbnb she had booked. Yet, she discovers that a young man, Keith (Bill Skarsgård), has already occupied the place. With inclement lousy weather and being in an unfamiliar place late at night, Keith convinces the young lady to stay where she can sleep in the bedroom, and he will take the couch.

The following day, after returning from her successful job interview, Tess searches through the unfamiliar house for toilet paper to find a door to the basement and a stash of toilet rolls. She hears distant cries for help before locating a dark and unlit passageway. When she discovers a dinghy chamber with a soiled mattress, bucket, and a video camera, she freaks out, but cannot escape as the cellar door had self-locked. When Keith returns, he helps Tess get out of the basement, but goes to investigate when her anxious description, of what had frightened her, made no sense. After a few minutes, Keith’s absence concerns her new roommate, and she looks for him. To her surprise, she found another subterranean level and a heinous discovery she never expected. Is Keith truly a nice guy caught up in an innocent mistake or, like many serial killers first appear to be, does he have nefarious plans for Tess? And…is the rental property all it seems to be?

Two weeks after Tess’ disappearance, AJ Gilbride (Justin Long) is introduced as a sitcom actor facing dark times for rape allegations. With financial difficulties pending, to free up cash, AJ goes to Detroit to sell one of the many rental properties that he owns - including the place where Tess went missing. AJ is irate to discover the house still ‘occupied,’ as neither of the former tenants appear to have left. While measuring up the house, he sees a potential financial windfall when he finds both a basement and a much lower subterranean level that increase the square footage of the house. While measuring the extra undisclosed areas, AJ encounters a shadowy figure in the dark before falling into a pit containing the captured Tess.

Director Zach Cregger immediately creates tension by immersing the viewer in a white-knuckle/nail-biting experience. This inherent uneasiness unfolds by cleverly utilising Zach Kuperstein’s cinematography. His quick and short close-ups, sudden first-person perspectives, and underexposure make for the perfect horror atmosphere. The viewer is perpetually left guessing what will happen next by introducing question after question. The fact that the characters make intelligent decisions and think things through only makes the viewing experience more realistic and tense. However, the addition of intentional comedy, in some parts, completely unsettles the viewer just before the next twist or turn topples one’s expectations.

Barbarian proves to be the stand-out amongst the steady flow of options during the Halloween season. A film that will draw you into the recesses of the narrative, take you on various twists and turns while leaving you guessing until the end.

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REEL DIALOGUE: What do I do with my fears?

When engaging with films like Barbarian, the filmmakers capitalise on our deepest fears. Specifically of death and how this inevitably can happen at any time and seemingly in random ways. To allow fear to rule life is to put faith in the ‘what could be’ of life, which can lead to mental, emotional, or physical paralysis for many. Fear means to focus on what may or may not happen, which even existed in people of the Bible. Moses, Gideon, Esther, and more had to work through their fears.

The answer is to not focus on the ‘what could be’ of life, but to find solace in the God of the universe. Jesus is the one who defeated death and offers freedom from fear through his life and words. The Apostle Paul writes of this when addressing the concern of a young disciple named Timothy. Read through these words and know they answer where we should all put our fears. The answer to fear