New horror movie Barbarian sees Tess (Georgina Campbell) arrive at an Airbnb only to find it already occupied, having failed to look it up on Trapadvisor.

Zach Cregger’s debut solo effort opens like a sinister romcom between Tess and her surprise housemate (Bill Skarsgård), then descends into a Get Out-style social-issue slasher (Cregger also followed a similar sketch comedy to horror director trajectory as Jordan Peele). But where Get Out‘s rage felt raw and real, Barbarian‘s second-act introduction of a #MeTooed sitcom actor (Justin Long) seems to stem more from a desire to fit the zeitgeist than any sincere passion for the cause.

Where it excels is nuts-and-bolts horror engineering, and that is not to be sniffed at in a year whose scariest images were in Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Cregger rolls Men, Amulet and Don’t Breathe into one grizzly package, ratcheting up the tension with poise and precision, deploying POV crawls and Evil Dead zooms to barbaric effect. It makes no sense of course (eg. Tess’ new boss makes no attempt to find her), but if we needed stuff to make sense we wouldn’t be here (and by here I do mean Earth).

Scarebnb does nothing Creep didn’t do better in 2004, failing to shake the sense the first chapter would have been more satisfying as a standalone short. As a feature it appears slight and unfinished, while Cregger’s half-effort to make his film about something is at odds with his Sam Raimi playbook. Horror flicks are allowed to just be scary, and Barbarian succeeds, even if there’s spare room for improvement.

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