Made with clear skill and confidence, this gory, creepy, topical chiller keeps its mystery under wraps for an impressively long time before revealing a monster that seems disappointingly ill-fitting. Zach Cregger's Barbarian is laid out in chapters that seem wildly disconnected at first ... until they snap together. The first chapter, with Tess and Keith -- a setup similar to the one in Gone in the Night -- mines paranoia and mistrust, especially in regards to the male-female dynamic, to an impressive degree. It's also a masterful deflection, keeping viewers guessing and offering commentary on the withering of America, depicting a ruined Detroit neighborhood that could have been saved if only someone had cared.
The second chapter, with AJ, addresses the #MeToo movement in an interesting, satirical way, showing a character who is, undeniably, an awful person, but also demonstrating the extensive damage that an accusation can do. (There's no good side to this story.) Then a weird flashback scene set in the 1980s features an eerie lens choice, creating a vast, stretched-out space and dropping more clues as to what's actually going on. But the final stretch, as characters tangle with a gross latex-suited monster that has unreasonable strength and stamina, feels like a slap in the face. It's a cheap solution to a layered and fascinating setup, a lazy borrow from films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Evil Dead II. It's hard to recommend Barbarian based on this disappointing finish, but the craftsmanship -- and strong entertainment value -- of the first three-quarters is hard to deny.