hey “barbarian” is pretty great

Maybe it’ll change now that I’m in a steady committed relationship for the first time in a very long while but I’ve never been hounded by relatives with questions about settling down, marrying, reproducing. It seems on the other hand that every woman I’ve ever grown up and been chummy with has mentioned it’s the onus of every holiday. Grandmas especially wanting to know who’s on deck for partnership and what’re their prospects, their plans. As a teenager I’d go to a woman friend’s house and her mom would put elbows on the kitchen counter and ask me about myself with a smile that seemed like an innuendo. A joke I didn’t get. Later that night over chili fries at Johnny Rockets or sandwiches at Swenson’s the friend in question would say, “My mom wants us to get married.” Sometimes they allowed a couple seconds for me to feel flattered. “She wants me to marry everyone.”

There’s a newish horror movie in theaters called Barbarian and it’s fantastic. Touches on questions of parenting. Mothering. I don’t wanna give much away except to say it’s a quick 90 minutes and it’s very gory but also smart and incredibly suspenseful; more suspenseful than horrifying; the gore is used as a punctuation mark; an assurance, at the end of the first act and then regularly throughout, that there’s something at stake here. It wants you to know that it isn’t M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village in which (spoilers) it turns out that the big monsters lurking through the titular 18th century village are not real; nor is the 18th century village (long story). I’ve only seen The Village once and that was at a Regal movie theater in The Falls when I was thirteen or so. Shyamalan was the first contemporary filmmaker whose work I liked and could also track in theaters because it was all PG-13 until The Happening, which was rated R, but also happened to come out when I was seventeen. I saw it in theaters with my friend Harry. 

Harry was the first person I’ve ever known who, when we approached a theater marquee wanting to see two different movies, suggested that we see both. Back to back. And then it became a routine. One of our double features included The Happening. I remember he hated it but I was on the fence. Harry also hated horror movies but when I really wanted to see Rob Zombie’s Halloween he indulged me. “You have to buy my popcorn, though.” So I bought his popcorn. A large. It cost something like a thousand dollars and fifteen minutes into the movie there was a jump scare and he convulsed and flung the whole bag at the ceiling. 

Harry was brilliant and got into a great college. He’s a dentist now. He could probably’ve gotten into a better school but we were applying to college in 2008 and I remember a ripple of dejection passing through my graduating class because this was the worst part of the Great Recession and Ivy Leagues were cinching their belts, accepting fewer freshmen than usual, and hence there were two or three legitimate meltdowns at Miami Palmetto Sr High when some of our all-star students learned they hadn’t gotten into the Ivy of their choice (one of whom, named Marion, did somehow have a 4.2 gpa; she was perfectly normal but people whispered when she walked by and rooms went quiet when she entered). One of them famously collapsing in the hall at her rejection and got the lunchbag-breather treatment. 

But yes Barbarian is a very good movie and it’s best you go into the theater without any idea of what happens. Or so says the very satisfied blogger who saw it under those circumstances. Fantastic movie. Five stars. Might be premature to say this but as an avid lifelong fan of horror movies I’m prepared to say this is in the top ten best I’ve ever seen. Not “favorite,” but best. Up there among the most skillfully crafted and clever and inventive. Most artful. 

Check it out.

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