In this article:
- The 2022 Netflix horror film Barbarian, Zach Cregger’s solo directorial debut, has received solid praise from critics for its original storyline, innovative directing, and some outstanding performances from its cast.
- The film centers around a scenario that could happen to any of us: a double-booked Airbnb in an unsafe neighborhood. However, things go from bad to worse when the main character Tess discovers some dark secrets in the basement of the house.
- In general, I thought this movie was absolutely horrifying, very original in its script and plotline, and an all-around impressive body of work.
As a frequent traveler, I’ve stayed in my fair share of Airbnbs, some of them not so great. I’ve seen some unclean sheets, a few cockroaches, and a handful of hosts that gave me pretty weird vibes. But, certainly, I’ve never experienced an Airbnb quite as bad as the one in the new 2022 Netflix horror film Barbarian. Essentially, an Airbnb experience goes from bad to worse when she discovers an underground tunnel in the basement of the home that leads her to discover some horrifying secrets. Unfortunately, Airbnb doesn’t allow you to leave negative-star reviews.
Barbarian was certainly a refreshing twist on the horror genre, deviating from the norms at every turn and keeping the audience completely at a loss for what to expect. The film plays with these overutilized tropes, taunting the viewer with sighs of relief only to catch them off their guard moments later.
Georgina Campbell, who plays the lead character Tess, delivers a believable performance even throughout the movie’s most kitschy and outlandish scenes. And co-stars Justin Long and Bill Skarsgård (who’s known for playing Pennywise in IT) also stepped up to the plate with dynamic performances that keep the audience in a state of constant tension.
Overall, while there were some parts of Barbarian that were a bit over-the-top or unclear, the film as a whole was refreshingly original, unexpected, and definitely scary. If you’re looking for a horror film that’s not afraid to play outside the established structure of the genre and will make you never want to book an Airbnb again, go log in to Netflix and watch Barbarian right now.
Barbarian was written and directed by Zach Cregger (of the New York City-based comedy group Whitest Kids U’ Know) as his solo directorial debut. The twists and turns of the plot can be slightly hard to follow at some points, but allow me to try to explain. If you haven’t seen the movie, be aware that the following paragraphs will contain quite a few spoilers.
The movie starts off with an unfortunate scenario that could happen to anyone. Tess arrives at an Airbnb in a derelict section of Detroit late on a rainy night, only to discover that the house has been double-booked and that she’ll have to share the place with Keith.
At first, Tess is extremely wary of Keith (Bill Skarsgård) at first despite the fact that he acts extremely cordially toward her. Additionally, viewers may recognize Skarsgård from his role as Pennywise from IT or have seen the trailer for the movie (which implies that Keith is the villain), and assume that Keith is going to creep into Tess’s room at night.
Well, in actuality, Tess finds that her door has swung open in the middle of the night, but finds that Keith is still fast asleep only moments later. Unexpectedly, Tess makes it through the night completely unharmed and goes to her job interview. However, when she gets back, she discovers the house’s dark secret: a hidden door that leads to some sort of creepy porn dungeon.
When Keith returns to the house later on, Tess tells him about her discovery and he goes down into the basement to see for himself. Tess calls out to Keith from upstairs but gets no response until she hears him calling for help from deep underneath the house. Following his screams into a secret underground system of tunnels, Tess fiend Keith crawling in terror. Seconds later, a ghostly white, massive, large-breasted woman comes out of the darkness and smashes Keith’s head against a wall until it resembles ground beef.
With that horrifying image burned in the brain of the viewer, the screen goes dark and cuts to a scene of famous actor AJ Gilbride (Justin Long) riding in a convertible and discovering that he’s being accused of sexual misconduct and rape by a coworker. In light of the news, AJ decides to liquidate some of his residential properties, one of which is in a derelict neighborhood in Detroit.
So, AJ arrives at the house and discovers that there are people’s possessions strewn everywhere. He then hears noises coming from the basement, at which point he gets a flashlight and decides to venture down there. Upon discovering the secret rooms and tunnels, AJ grows excited that he may be able to list the house with a higher square footage and get more money for it, so he goes down into the tunnels with a tape measure. Not long after, AJ gets attacked by the large-breasted ghoul-woman and is forced into a hole where he discovers Tess.
“The Mother” tries to feed breastmilk to AJ but he refuses, which sets her into a rage and she drags AJ. Amidst the commotion, Tess is able to escape and get the attention of local police. The cops, however, don’t believe her story and threaten to arrest her for breaking the window which she escaped from.
The film then turns to a flashback from the 1980s which shows a man named Frank being a complete and utter creep. It’s revealed that he was the former owner of the house and that he used to kidnap women and keep them hostage in the tunnels beneath the house. Back in the present day, AJ discovers a bedridden Frank in a secret room as he’s trying to escape the tunnels.
AJ pushes a table closer to Frank’s bed, accidentally giving him access to a gun, which he uses to kill himself. Aj then picks up the gun and ventures back into the tunnels. Seeing the silhouette of a human in the tunnels, AJ accidentally shoots Tess thinking that she’s The Mother.
Tess survives the shooting and the two of them escape the house, but the Mother is still on the loose. They seek refuge with a homeless man who them that The Mother is the result of Frank’s intergenerational incestual rape. He also claims that his home beneath the water tower is completely safe only moments before The Mother smashes through a wall, rips his arm off, and proceeds to beat him to death with his own arm.
AJ and Tess run up to the top of the water tower and discover that they have nowhere left to run. So, AJ grabs Tess by the hair and throws her off the water tower, causing The Mother to dive off the tower after her.
When AJ gets to the bottom of the tower, he discovers that Tess survived the fall. However, The Mother quickly regains consciousness, gouges his eyes out, and rips his skull in half like a loaf of bread. Tess then picks up the gun and shoots The Mother in the face. Tess walks off injured and bloody and the movie ends.
Overall, as I said, I thought that the film did a great job of defying expectations. At the beginning of the film, the audience assumes that Keith is going to be the villain to terrorize Tess. However, that illusion is shattered when his head gets smashed to a pulp and it turns out that he was what he said he was: a pretty good dude.
There’s also a great scene toward the beginning of the film where Tess discovers the creepy hidden door leading to the gloomy hallway. As a viewer, I was screaming, “Oh, great! She’s just going to walk into that creepy hallway now! Don’t do it!” And, to my surprise, Tess simply says, “Nope,” and walks away. This and other moments of surprising rationality made this film feel new and refreshing.
The sudden cut from Keith getting his head mangled to AJ driving in his red convertible was jarring and unexpected and left the audience delightfully confused. The juxtaposition of a gory scene in a dark hallway with a man cruising down the coast and singing was both confusing and interesting in a great way.
I also thought that the social commentary was subtle and expertly delivered. The difference in the appearance of the neighborhood between the 1980s and the present day commented on how some areas of Detroit have been forgotten and forsaken in recent years. The fact that police officers assumed that Tess was high on drugs and talking nonsense based on her appearance certainly seems relevant to the modern political climate. All in all, in a day and age when too many films hit you over the head with their political agendas, Barbarian managed to assert its social commentaries in a graceful and effective way.
One of my main quarrels with Barbarian is that I wish that the backstory of Frank had been developed in more detail. For the man at the root of the entire movie, the impetus of the entire terrifying scenario, he gets surprisingly little screen time. Perhaps the intention was to keep the figure of Frank mysterious; however, I believe that putting this man’s atrocities on full display for the audience could have made the movie even scarier and also helped the audience sympathize more with The Mother, making for a more dynamic and interesting villain.
Other parts of the film seemed slightly overdone, most of all the scene where The Mother rips off the homeless man’s arm and beats him to death with it. Don’t get me wrong: I love a healthy amount of blood and gore. And I thought that the head-smashing death of Keith and the eye-gouging death of AJ were both in good taste. A homeless man getting beaten to death with his own arm, though? It was a bit too much.
All in all, I thought Barbarian was great and definitely worth the 102 minutes that I spent viewing it. There were a few little parts that I may have done differently but, on the whole, Barbarian was a novel take on the horror genre that showcased Zach Cregger’s creativity and ingenuity. Oh, and it was absolutely terrifying.