Cregger, of the sketch group The Whitest Kids U’ Know and their Playboy magazine from the comedy “Miss March”, knows what he’s playing with here. The optics of this woman putting herself in a certain vulnerability is uncomfortable, and his economical filmmaking pushes it just as well. Soon it’s time to check out the basement, no major spoilers here, but you probably wouldn’t want to go down there, or past the door that can be opened with a string. Effective fear comes in varying amounts from this story, sometimes due to intrusive plotting. And yet the grisly mysteries and crazy revelations are plenty visceral in “Barbarian,” even when they get deliberately silly.
Did I mention the other Airbnb guy is being played Bill Skarsgård of “That“? For further proof that casting is a vital part of filmmaking, consider Skarsgård’s inclusion, one of the film’s unsettling bits, as unsettling as the house’s many secret, dark corridors. Here former Clown Pennywise uses his incidental presence , the circular eyes and imposing figure, displacing it with a nervous twirl, goes on and on as he tries to explain that he cares for Tess to feel safe in this bizarre situation. Is it just a disarming act? Playing Skarsgård another enticing creep? “Barbarian” gets a lot of adrenaline from that question, and answers it in one of the film’s best scenes.
Later, Justin Long appears in the house. His Hollywood guy, AJ, is introduced to slide down a coastal road in a convertible, only to find out in a phone call that he is being accused of doing something terrible to an actress. As someone who most likely said something, AJ is more concerned with his career and putting it behind him. Long is adept at playing the guy’s genuinely awful nature, down to a good laugh-out-loud joke in how he gets involved in this mess at Airbnb (“Barbarian” could be funnier, and its lack of more comic relief is an outlier). A film like this thrives on the choices its characters make, and Long’s smooth crawl is its most sound construct.