Review by Charles Bramesco @intothecrevasse

Directed by

Zach Cregger


Bill Skarsgård Georgina Campbell Justin Long


Word is this one’s got a lot up its sleeve.


Not bad, but is that all there is?

In Retrospect.

Strong fundamentals in service of a simple idea.

A holiday rental turns into a nightmare for a young woman in Zach Cregger's horror debut.

A woman (Georgina Campbell) goes to an Airbnb she’s reserved, only to find another visitor already there, its owner having double-booked the property through a different rental site. The unexpected roommate gives off a polite yet unsettling vibe, and not just because he’s played by Bill Skarsgård, face of Pennywise the Dancing Clown in the recent It adaptations. Even before he lures her into the basement, anyone with a baseline knowledge of what movies are and how they work can see where this is going. Or can we?

We cannot. Writer-director Zach Cregger (best known for his work with sketch comedy troupe The Whitest Kids U’ Know, attempting a Jordan Peele pivot here) traffics in misdirection, his ‘twists’ less surprising wrinkles of plot than total redefinitions of meaning. He spends the first half-hour setting up one type of horror movie until the introduction of a new character (Justin Long, in fine form) several states away from the action announces that we’re shifting course to another, a rug-pull toppling the assumptions that savvy viewers make as second nature.

While opening-weekend ticket-buyers in the States have been commendably tight-lipped about the specific nature of the one-eighty pulled after the first act, the later UK release nonetheless arrives a touch demystified, a bolt from the blue now turned into an unknown known. But the lag in scheduling serves to underscore a truism about gimmickry versus true cleverness: unless a reveal deposits the story somewhere interesting, the writer’s just playing an unsporting game of gotcha with an audience who doesn’t know any better than to believe him. Once we know a twist is coming, the value becomes what’s done with it, the same criterion that motivates re-watches of a film after we know what happens.

Ultimately, Cregger takes an unconventional route down a familiar path. One turn in the script widens the aperture on the theme of male predation to nationally topical proportions, and another expands patterns of gendered violence to a scope of decades. However correct the underlying concept may be in its assertions about the evil men do, the nightmares articulating this idea have all been seen before, whether it’s the umpteenth desiccated naked oldster (surely there are more frightening things in this world than droopy boobs) or a model of problematic masculinity abundantly common in the years since #MeToo first broke.

The marriage of commentary to genre is not a harmonious one; horror’s imperative to give us someone we want to die has a simplifying effect on an antagonist freighted with a complicated significance. This man is so easy to root against that his edge is dulled as an avatar of chauvinism, a cartoonish figure made to stand in for a real issue.

That bluntness belies Cregger’s delicacy behind the camera as he inventively reorganizes space to hide parts of a scene and keep us in suspense. He likes using doorways to subdivide a single shot into multiple frames, or as a cold distancing effect when showing something particularly chilling. His impulse to play it stingy with information works better on a visual than narrative level, its deliberate misleading more easily swallowed in small doses than as the peg on which the entire film hangs.

Allergic to the ponderous brand of overdetermined ‘metaphorror’ currently in vogue, Cregger possesses a showman’s instincts, his energies primarily invested in pound-for-pound entertainment value. Maybe that’s why the subject at hand feels so perfunctory, the broad feminist stance filling out the vacant space in otherwise unrelated macro- and micro-scaled tricks of structuring. Men are all the same, as the oft-aired dater’s grievance goes, but the entry-level perspective on cancel culture loses sight of what makes the latest model of creep a special sort of monster.

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Published 24 Oct 2022

Tags: Barbarian Bill Skarsgård Georgina Campbell Zach Cregger


Word is this one’s got a lot up its sleeve.


Not bad, but is that all there is?

In Retrospect.

Strong fundamentals in service of a simple idea.

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