If I tried to appeal for the mercy of the court with Barbarian, I have no business thinking this film doesn’t easily earn me a “WHAAAT?? You haven’t seen that??” by any means. This flick is from my high school heyday released back in 1998, my sophomore year. However, this is one of those movies that was not on the approved list at the time. Mom won out on this flick. It wasn’t until my Junior year that I had more walking around money and a buddy with a car that my cinematic boundaries began to fade. Once I was free to be out on my own with friends and had the cash for a movie ticket, the theater experience was ours for the taking. With ID in hand that granted me entrance to the world of R ratings and a stature that did not often require such proof of age, much to the chagrin of my compadre with the wheels who was almost always carded, we saw pretty much anything and everything we wanted. This particular movie just fell in that vacuum of movies that I never went back to watch once I had the freedom to watch whatever I wanted. And now that in 2023 we have more content than we could ever view in 10 lifetimes, the plan skews towards keeping up with the Joneses instead of going back for the hidden gems of yesteryear.
A number of people in my MovieTok circles had brought this movie up lately which put it on my radar. So much so that at a relatively low price on Amazon, I opted for the blind buy despite it streaming on Paramount+ at the moment. I don’t regret it as this is one of those movies that sort of feels like it needs to be in the collection. Its one of those high school era classics that has it’s place. Plus the cast in this movie went pretty deep in every direction. The adult actors ranged from Robert Patrick to Salma Hayek to Christopher McDonald, Mr. Shooter McGavin himself. Then on the younger side you’ve got a number of familiar faces all the way out to Usher, who seemed to be there just because. When you add this all together it just checks all the boxes of one of those movies that is a hallmark of your high school days and it should be firmly planted on the shelves with everything else.
I will say that they didn’t really break any new ground with this movie. It’s a late 90’s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers all the way. I will say that while I enjoyed the size of the cast, there were times that I felt like it was almost a waste as it meant everyone’s time on screen was going to be thin at best. This really seemed to be the case as the pacing in the movie felt rushed at times. The trouble with watching this movie 25 years after it was meant to be consumed is that I’ve see everything and I’m not a high schooler. If I was 18 and had no real point of reference for much better iterations of an Invasion of the Body Snatchers lore, I’d be all over this movie for being so inventive and creepy. But as a 40 year old man who has spent most of his life consuming movies in bulk, there was no point in this movie where i wasn’t well ahead of whatever the next move for anyone. Nothing took me by surprise. Nobody “turning” caught me off guard. There wasn’t even a jump scare that caught me. Now I know I wasn’t terribly kind to Barbarian but this is where it’s important to differentiate between intention. This movie was much more enjoyable because I was never meant to be vested in realism. Even in 1998, it was clear this movie was supposed to be a suspension of belief right off the bat. One of the things that made it actually better in my opinion was the nostalgia that this movie possesses. Not just for products and fashion trends of a bygone era. But the fact that this was such a high school flick from the late 90’s. All the tropes of that era were there. Anything you could spoof in “Not Another Teen Movie” was present down to the piercings and the haircuts. Josh Harnett was the MOST 90’s I think you could get. And the fact that you had all the cliques represented and the fact that they held SO hard to their stereotypes was fantastic.
I would be remiss if I didn’t address the CGI elephant in the room. This was perfect because it was just so cheesy. I like to think of the effects in a movie like this to be similar to the notion of shooting the moon in the card game hearts. IF you miss even one of the cards, it absolutely screws you over. But if you manage to scoop them all up, the end result is beautiful. And that’s where this lands for me. Every instance both computer generated and practical, when it came to the effects in the film. was perfect. The CGI at the time probably still would have been a little rough but simultaneously still somehow at least a little bit impressive. In 2023 its atrocious. But so much so that it swings back around to almost endearing to look at and know that this was acceptable just a quarter century ago. They also did do some really enjoyable things with practical effects as well which added to the lovable nature of this film. The fact that they didn’t just CGI everything all the time was nice because it gave room for Jon Stewart to have some facial applications to display his melting face. Little fingertips that scurry along the floor were just adorable, not creepy. And little Elijah Wood staring face to face with the Alien Queen at the end was perfect fodder for a Schwarzenegger-esque one liner that made the payoff so wonderful. For all intents and purposes, this movie shouldn’t hold up. And I suppose if you weren’t from that time frame, it might not. Nostalgia carries this one a lot of the way for me. But I’m ok with that.
At the end of the day, this is a whos who of some of young Hollywood was building up at the time while still celebrating some familiar faces. There’s so many people in this movie that you’ll feel comfortable, if not eager, trying to remember where you know them all from in the end. Being able to look back at some of these actors and see how far they’ve come as well is fun to do. This was a fun romp for me. It was silly enough to be fun while still taking itself seriously enough to try and line up some scares along the way that don’t totally miss. You could watch this with another millennial and enjoy the crap out of pointing out all the references you can find. Calling out actors and where you know them from or reminiscing about people you went to high school with that were nerds or jocks or cheerleaders or whatever it was that Josh Hartnett was supposed to be. Drug dealer savant perhaps? Maladjusted social dynamo with an entrepreneurial spirit? Whatever it was, it was a wonderful cast who accomplished their mission. They saved the town and thusly the entire world from a parasitic takeover. The nerd got the girl. The jog got the goth. I’m pretty sure the football team still won. And Famke Jansen was revealed to be really hot, despite putting her hair up and wearing glasses, also known as the curse of the 90’s girl. So while this movie is probably realistically somewhere in the 4.5 range as far as it’s actual quality, I bump it up more towards a 7 for pure, unadulterated nostalgia. I know that makes me a bad critic, but I don’t care. I’m just talking about movies I’m watching and why I’m enjoying them. We’re having a good time here kids. So until next time, I’ll catch you on the flip side.