Review: Barbarian

Barbaric begins as a bad joke: a young woman, Tess, has rented a house on Airbnb in the suburbs of Detroit, but when she arrives in the middle of the night, she discovers that the place is occupied by another tenant, Keith. On this very classic canvas – that of the bad encounter with a stranger – Barbaric succeeds in a striking and unusual introduction, which initially relies on a great economy of effects: with the exception of the storm and the sound design of the credits (which recalls that of Suspiria), no notable sound element characterizes the beginning of the film, which advances masked. The characterization of the two characters is important: Keith is a jazz lover and looks for abandoned houses that a collective of artists could occupy; Tess is working on a documentary project about artists who have settled in the poor neighborhoods of the city, ” where houses are free. ” Planted in the middle of a ghost district, the Airbnb residence, whose neutral, functional and refined interior testifies to a very contemporary taste, typically has the profile of an old house bought for a pittance. The whole trick of Barbaric consists in unfolding a certain number of horrific paths around this setting: the characters count less, in short, than the experience they have of a place and the discovery, inside it, of a form of social horror lurking in basements.

The first track would be that of the neo-Gothic film (the teasers that have circulated on social networks, since the surprise success of Barbaric in the United States, played fully on the codes of the haunted house film, with its creaking doors and its cellar heavy with secrets), but it turns out to be misleading. If the cellar constitutes the essential place of the story, the one where a hidden labyrinth will gradually reveal itself, it is not inhabited by ghosts but by the primitive residents of the house – an idea which is not unlike that of Us by Jordan Peele, director with whom Zach Cregger shares a certain number of points in common. Both come indeed from the universe of show American and are trying today to coexist in genre cinema amusement and political discourse, with varying degrees of success.

the underworld

The second part of Barbaric seems less held than its excellent start. A new character, the owner of the house, makes his appearance (Justin Long, whom we find here twenty years later Jeeper Creepers) and measures the underground galleries to the nearest metre, with a view to a sale, as if he were taking part in a Stéphane Plazza program. Another path then emerges, that of horrific social satire, in the tradition of George A. Romero and Wes Craven: faced with rednecks who sleep in the belly of the house, it is difficult not to think of The hills Have Eyes, or the excellent remake by Alexandra Aja, who also explored an underworld made up of cavities where American outcasts languished. If this satirical vein is nothing new, the way in which Zach Cregger invests it is particularly effective: the division of spaces and their disproportionate character (small house/huge underground estate) serve his purpose on the gentrification of Detroit, a city sold to communities of artists who repaint its industrial ruins to exhibit them today on Instagram. From this point of view, Barbaric can be seen as horror cinema’s answer to Jim Jarmusch’s vampire tourist tour in Only Lovers Left Aliveor the vain wanderings of the characters of Lost River by Ryan Gosling – two films which took Detroit as a setting and retained only its decadent beauty (with Gosling, the city was even filmed as a museum of ruin). With the brutality that characterizes genre cinema most faithful to its roots, Zach Cregger takes possession of a territory vampirized by auteur cinema: the house at 476 Barbary Street is in a way his hidden basement; it is not haunted, but indeed still inhabited.

Review: Barbarian – Critikat