Released September 9th
This is a very smart movie…until the end, that is, where it kind of disintegrates into a montage of pop culture elements. I kind of understand the decision by writer/director Zach Cregger to go more mainstream with last few minutes of the film, since this is the first major feature for this prolific actor/ improv comedian/ writer / director/ producer/ twitch streamer. And it worked for him, as the movie took in 10 million in its opening weekend. However I was ready to see it get deeper into the psychology, flaws and courage of the players, and to pose some heady questions.
He didn’t need to go over the top with the ending because he had already created really compelling characters, brought to life by his talented cast, and an environment that sucks you in, thanks to his cinematographer Zach Kuperstein, a master of creating pain, loneliness and disconnect out of light, shadow and oscillating depth. Cregger also enlisted an excellent editor, Joe Murphy, who knows just how many heartbeats to hold on a scene to establish unbearable suspense. Light and dark and colors are used to drive emotion and suspense, as are sounds. The extraordinary sound track by Anna Drubich is haunting and extremely effective.
British actress Georgina Campbell, in her first major feature, establishes “Tess” as a down to earth, very real and relatable heroine. Bill Sarsgaard, middle son of the great acting family headed by his father Stellen, creates a very complex but also relatable “Keith,” whose hesitancy seems either born from kindness or personality disorder, we’re not sure which. This role will break our tendency to think of him only as the “Pennywise,” the scary clown from the 2017 movie It. Justin Long nails “AJ,” the self-obsessed actor running from the crosshairs of the MeToo movement.
These characters go through transformative experiences and their relationships are engaging and intense. Their predicament is very realistic, until the last few minutes of the film. The way they handle each frightening situation thrown at them gives them charisma and believability, and what you think is going to happen can turn on a dime. The story explores trust and doors, and the push-pull between the characters and their environment becomes intense. I would like to have seen the whole film develop as it did in the first hour and a half. However in the last few minutes I kept saying to myself, “I would have done that so differently.” The problem is that the characters, the setting and the situation had so much potential to be a really profound experience, and that doesn’t happen in the end. Even the location, Detroit (with Bulgaria being a part time stand-in for some shots) could have taken on extra meaning through its pre-Civil War history, but that detail is never given screen time. Barbarian is worth seeing for the excellent work that’s gone into it. My advice is, just don’t mind the last few minutes.
Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, a backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people. She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica.