The Best ‘Barbarian’ Movie Plot Has Nothing To Do With The Monster

Zach Cregger’s dark and funny horror movie Barbaric, about an indescribable evil lurking in a Detroit Airbnb, is full of twists and surprises. But the best twist has nothing to do with the movie’s monster and makes a powerful statement about gender-based violence.

Trigger Warning: This post contains references to rape and gender-based violence.

This post also contains major spoilers for Barbaric.

The film centers on Tess (Georgina Campbell), who travels to Detroit for a job interview and discovers that her Airbnb has already been booked by a man named Keith (Bill Skarsgård). The accidental housemates soon discover that there is something lurking in the basement. It turns out the house belonged to a man named Frank (Richard Brake), who spent decades kidnapping, raping, and murdering dozens of women in a dungeon under the house. Frank impregnated the women and also raped their children, and his experiment ultimately resulted in a monstrously strong woman whom the film only calls “the mother” (Matthew Patrick Davis). The mother’s goal is to be a mother, as she grew up watching an old breastfeeding video on repeat, and after killing Keith, she locks Tess in a cage and bottle feeds her.

Enter AJ

AJ, in Barbarian, turns on a flashlight and screams.
(20th century workshops)

The film’s second act abruptly jumps to AJ, an LA actor whose career plummets after a co-worker accuses him of rape. Selling his house to pay legal fees, AJ goes to another property he owns in Detroit, which happens to be the same Airbnb where Tess drinks from dirty bottles in an underground cage. When AJ finds the dungeon, he starts measuring the square footage so he can get more money for the house (this scene is, by the way, the funniest and most stressful part of the whole film), and the mother wastes no time capturing it.

Both AJ and Frank are rapists, but the film is careful to create a stark contrast between them. Before entering the dungeon, AJ visits an old friend at a Detroit bar, where he drunkenly admits that his co-worker didn’t want to sleep with him until he did. He can’t or won’t admit that what he’s describing is obviously rape, but later is horrified when he finds a collection of VHS tapes on which Frank recorded himself raping and torturing. his victims. Does he see himself in Frank’s actions? Or is everything on the TV screen (it’s hidden from the public so we only get AJ’s reaction) so gross that even a bastard like AJ can see it’s fake ? Either way, the moment sets the stage for AJ’s redemption.

This redemption seems to be happening as Tess and AJ hide from the mother in a vacant lot with Andre (Jaymes Butler), a local resident who rushed them to safety. During their panicked escape, AJ accidentally shoots Tess with Frank’s gun, and now he’s trying to figure out how to get her to the hospital. As he whines about his guilt for hurting Tess, AJ begins to make some startling confessions. “Maybe I’m a bad person,” he says. “Maybe I’m a good person, but I did a bad thing.” He says he’s going to fix his mistake, and we realize he’s not just talking about Tess’ gunshot wound – he’s finally coming to terms with the fact that he raped someone and needs to make amends.

At first, this moment is actually a little disappointing. You mean we followed Tess through that first act, only to have the movie suddenly turn into a story of redemption for a rapist? This movie seemed like an allegory for gender-based violence, but now it’s asking us to forget the female lead and focus our emotional energy on an ugly guy who finally acts like a human? For real?

Except that’s not what the movie does at all.

Surprise, surprise: AJ still sucks

AJ barely finished his speech when Barbaric reverses his redemption bow.

As they talk, the mother bursts through a wall, rips Andre apart, and sends Tess and AJ up the stairs of a water tower to escape. At the top, however, they realize there is nowhere to run.

But AJ hastily comes up with a plan. He grabs Tess and throws her to the side of the tower, trusting that the Mother will chase her and give her time to escape. AJ proves that he learned absolutely nothing. There is no self-reflection here, no desire to do better. For AJ, women just don’t matter, even though he tries to convince himself they do.

Miraculously (or improbably), Tess survives when the mother jumps after her, reaches the ground before her, and breaks her fall. AJ switches back to hero mode and helps Tess up, but we now know that his efforts are nothing more than superficial posturing, and he’ll ditch Tess again when it suits him. Fortunately, he never gets the chance. As the two limp, the mother wakes up, gouges out AJ’s eyes and crushes his skull.

The heart of violence

Tess, in Barbarian, climbs a ladder to escape the Mother.
(20th century workshops)

Barbaric flips the script on AJ’s misogyny in other ways as well. While the mother holds him captive, for example, she tries to nurse him, forcing his nipple into her mouth so he feels the same violation he inflicted on his colleague (and presumably on other women as well). It’s truly a teachable moment for AJ, and it’s a shame he doesn’t understand the lesson.

In his heart, Barbaric is more than just a horror film, it’s a dark exploration of how gender-based violence is perpetuated and endures. The mother, although her story is deeply tragic, is the demon that lurks in the psyches of rapists like AJ and Frank, and it’s only fitting that she serves as their support as well.

And what about Tess, who’s failed by almost every man she meets in the film? Ultimately, after she shoots the mother and walks away from the body, we are faced with a grim and infuriating truth at the heart of the violence: often there is no atonement or closure. There is only survival.

(Featured Image: 20th Century Studios)

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