Cinematographic genres and subgenres are born from the primitive need that pushes us to sort and classify. In the case of Barbarian by director Zach Cregger, we are going to put it on the horror movie shelf. This tyrannical exercise may alienate certain audiences that do not like to travel through these avenues. This is the case with many other movies when we have, by obligation or necessity, to subscribe to some genre. But the genre is just a vehicle that filmmakers use to develop their ideas and convey their discourses.
In Barbarian Cregger grabs the manual and checks each one of the boxes to create the atmosphere of a horror film. From that first sequence on a rainy night, the girl alone and the macabre house that awaits her, all this to the beat of thunder and music that disturbs us. There the lines are defined and throughout the development of the story, the director remains firm to build a story that thrives on its objective. At all times we can feel an omnipresent threat that looms over the character of Tess (Georgina Campbell). It is her odyssey that we live, first on the physical spectrum and then on an emotional level.
Zach Kuperstein’s (The Climb, The Vigil) camera and Joe Murphy’s (Swallow, Zeroville) editing add character to those tight, dimly lit spaces. It is from the lens that we enter the world of Barbarian, but what makes us stay is the script by the same director Zach Cregger. Our Tess is not only in danger of satisfying our most twisted desires. Beneath what is narrated with the images there is a subtext that transcends banality and elevates the film. With subtle brushstrokes, the director opens the space to criticize the Hollywood industry and its sexual harassment and abuse scandals. It also approaches corrosive machismo and its effect on relationships. In the background, a decadent Detroit looks like a ghost town victim of the economic crisis.
Without ceasing to be effective as a horror film, Barbarian manages to develop a story that supports analysis beyond the staging and good use of technical resources. His metaphors remind us of the use of this element in other films of the genre that drag us along horrifying odysseys and at its center we can discover a more complex theme such as High Tension (2003) Dir. Alexandre Aja, The Descent (2005) Dir. Neil Marshall, and Hereditary (2018) Dir. Ari Aster, to name a few.
Zach Cregger conceived his work after reading the book “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker. In this work, Becker presents a guide that helps women trust their instincts to detect signs of violence. From this point, Cregger creates an original script centered on a female character who is attacked by different forms of violence.