Barbarian writer/director Zach Cregger takes a simple premise and spins it into a series of unexpected permutations. Some tropes work better than others, but we’ll give him credit for inventiveness.

In town for a job interview, Tess (Georgina Campbell) arrives late at night in the pouring rain to find her Airbnb occupied by a surprise guest, Keith (Bill Skarsgård). After some tense feelings, they discover some common interests and decide to spend the evening as short-term roommates. The tension shifts from Keith’s intentions to the house itself, as bumps in the night lead to startling discoveries.

Without spoiling too much of the fun, Cregger uses several historical horror flick callbacks to decent effect and is clearly an enthusiast of the genre. Narratively, Barbarian uses the location itself as a primary character, delving deep into the dark history of the house and shifting focus between multiple characters. There’s a grab bag of current-day societal issues ranging from #MeToo to gentrification and the decline of American cities. It’s not all trauma here, as the film drops in some truly comedic moments, deftly pacing out the scares. And while several of the scenarios stretch credulity, when Barbarian works, it achieves some entertainingly ghastly heights. R, 102 min.

Wide release in theaters

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