Any film writing manual would teach you that the most classic model of screenplay corresponds to the “three-act restorative structure.
That is, a script clearly divided between a beginning, an unfolding and an end. In the first act the characters are introduced, laying the foundations for the conflict; in the second act – the most full-bodied – the clash between the characters themselves, or in any case between the protagonist and the obstacles she has to face, is outlined; finally, in the third act, the crisis is resolved, often thanks to the overcoming of that inner dilemma which at first caused the hero’s defeat. Well, Zach Cregger ‘s Barbarianremains faithful to the structure in question, but distorts some of its elements to foster suspense and disorient the audience, taking away any point of reference at the very height of the tension.
Without beating around the bush, we are faced with one of the most important and representative horror films of 2022, as well as the most unsettling by far. Also for this reason, it is good to see it without knowing anything about the story, and to stay away from the trailer. On the other hand, in Italy it came out directly on Disney + with a zero promotion, so it’s not difficult to approach the film in total – and, for once, blessed – ignorance. I myself will limit myself to hinting at the premises of the plot. We are in an abandoned suburb of Detroit, where a young woman named Tess ( Georgina Campbell) rented a house on Airbnb for a couple of nights: the next day he has to go to a job interview with a well-known documentary maker. Tess arrives there when she gets dark, but she discovers that the house is already occupied by a boy, Keith ( Bill Skarsgård ), who claims to have rented it for the same period on another platform. At first wary, the girl accepts Keith ‘s invitation to settle in the bedroom, while he takes the sofa: there is a medical meeting in town, and finding free rooms seems impossible. Soon, however, the situation becomes more and more sinister, and Tess finds herself at the center of a real nightmare.
This synthesis, it is clear, covers only the opening minutes of Barbarian , but allows us to isolate its anxiogenic roots. Every woman is led to identify the signs of potential danger in a man’s behavior, and we viewers – especially if used to the horror and thriller genres – know how to grasp the same red flags in the characters: the incipit of the film, in fact, it’s all played on Keith ‘s ambiguity , fueled by our prejudices and our expectations. Are we wrong about him, or is he really not to be trusted? Zach Cregger made himself known as the author and performer of the comedy group Whitest Kids U ‘Know , whose sketchesthey were already characterized by sudden rejections to surprise the spectators, through the accumulation of surreal absurdities and references to the historical imaginary, horror, political, science fiction and more. Barbarian translates this approach into a horror script, where the three-act structure serves not only to organize the story, but to displace the audience. As Tess progressively enters the house, we immerse ourselves deeper and deeper into the reality of the plot, with pivots and characters introduced when we least expect it. But Creggerit does not just repeat the usual tripartite script; on the contrary, it obscures the traditional roles (who is the real protagonist?) and alters the basic morality: it is not said that we can redeem ourselves from the faults of the past, or that the inner dilemmas are solvable.
All this, among other things, without losing sight of the suspense of the narrative, especially in the first part, which touches increasingly rare peaks of anxiety in contemporary horror. Cregger is good at exploiting the ancestral fear of the dark, aided here by Zach Kuperstein ‘s photography , which brings out every little detail to transfigure it into a potential threat. The result is a seemingly infinite descent into the underworld, not only into the bowels of the earth but into human barbarism, as the title suggests. Barbarianlooks at the present, and draws its most crystalline horrors from it: from male violence to the abuses of power of the stars, passing through the deviant rhetoric of motherhood, whose continuous exaltation (in Italy we have a very current example) deteriorates into mania, oppression, physical and moral imposition. A degradation that is also environmental, because Cregger chooses to place the story in the suburbs of Detroit. As Alone Lovers Survive and It Follows has already shown , the decline of Motown – recovering from the biggest bankruptcy in the history of US cities – proves to be the ideal backdrop for urban horror, grown in the shadow of ruined villas. and uncultivated brushwood. This is also how Barbarianit speaks to us of our times: the barbarism is as much internal as it is external, and by peering into the abyss we could discover something unpleasant. Not only on others, but also on ourselves.