Barbarian contains a kind of brutality that has mostly been absent from cinema since the days of transgressive exploitation films in the 1970s or French horror films of the early 2000s. These are films that exist only to disturb.
There is rarely ever any humour or genuine themes to be found in modern transgressive cinema — just mean-spirited violence, typically towards women.
What separates Barbarian from many of these earlier works is that, not only does it have a genuine sense of humour, but it also has something to say.
It’s a story obsessed with depravity. Obsessed with how its imagery blurs the line between comedy and disgust in what comes across as a modern take on Evil Dead and other Sam Raimi works. It’s a horror comedy that gets its humour from the horror.
Barbarian is paced like a bullet train and the ever-escalating series of events is sure to keep all eyes glued to the screen, locked somewhere between turning away and laughing.
Go into it knowing as close to nothing as possible and just be prepared for the ride. If there is one guarantee, it’s that you will never, at any point, know where it’s going.
Barbarian isn’t just impactful because of its brutality or how gruesome the deaths are. In fact, compared to other recent films like Halloween Kills or Malignant, it’s actually quite tame.
What makes the film as shocking as it is, is simple: the characters.
Nearly every character’s background and motives are explored on-screen with shocking detail. You become invested in them, so when the blood does begin to flow, it makes every scene all that more memorable.
There’s something bleak about the world of Barbarian as well. It’s set in a small house on a mostly abandoned and derelict street in Barbary, Detroit. Barbarian takes place in a world where the sins of Reagan-era policies and politics haunt the rotting homes of ruined cities.
The effects of patriarchal violence and conservatism bleed into the present, leading to devastating consequences for all. It’s a story about a world that feels a little bit too familiar.
This movie is also just really gross; every surface looks like it smells bad as if covered in a fine layer of filth and bodily fluids. There’s rot underneath civilized society, and Barbarian seeks to capture it in all its sleazy, rotten, scuzzy glory. A fascinating glimpse into a world of dungeons, serial killers, smashed heads and gnawed teeth.
If you have a fascination with the strange, with the gross, with dark humour that borders on pitch black, and genuine social commentary about the effects of toxic masculinity and other systems of power, do not miss out on Barbarian. It serves as a grim reminder that sometimes the most terrifying creatures of all are nothing more than the symptoms of a broken system.