Why Barbarian’s Brightmoor is the perfect symbol of Detroit’s housing crisis

Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for the film. Barbaric.

When Tess Marshall (George Campbell) arrives at her Airbnb, she couldn’t make out the decay surrounding it. Shrouded in shadow is the neighborhood, Brightmoor, the setting of Zach Creggerthe new horror movie Barbaric, currently playing in theaters. But Brightmoor isn’t just a fictional hellscape reminiscent of 90s nightmare Mississippi. Sugar Ditch Alley. It’s a real Detroit neighborhood that’s languishing like other communities that collapsed during the city’s housing crisis.

In fact, a a new study from the University of Michigan estimates 37,630 households in Detroit live in neglected spaces with dangerous maintenance issues. 13% of its households live with bare wires, broken heaters or a lack of running hot water. In the film, this slum vibe is captured the morning after Tess’ stay in the Airbnb. On the way to her job interview, the morning light reveals houses with thick brush, tarpaulins for roofs, boarded windows and crumbling foundations. A type of horror that is a reality for some downtown Detroit residents.


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Brightmoor itself was a working-class neighborhood in the 1920s made up mostly of immigrants and Southerners who sought work in Detroit’s then booming automobile industry. It’s now an urban prairie of vacant homes with pink demolition slips hanging from the front doors. According to Data Driven Detroit, there are approximately 70,000 vacant units in Detroit with an overall vacancy rate of 20.7%. And it’s not just Brightmoor. A Google search of “Detroit’s most abandoned neighborhoods” brings up others like Grixdale Farms, Westwood Park and a dozen others, all of which have more than 25% vacancy.

Detroit hasn’t always been synonymous with demise. In the early 1900s, the founding of the three automobile giants – Dodge, Chrysler and Ford – as well as the rise of the shipbuilding industry fueled the the city’s economy ranked fourth in the United States in 1920. Due to demand during the impending war years, the industry reached its peak and filled the city with a population of 1.8 million. Over the next decade, Detroit would be proud of the establishment of Motown and a base for the approaching civil rights movement. Racial tensions simmered in the 1960s and sparked a phenomenon known as “white flight”, where hordes of white city families left town for the suburbs or other parts of Michigan.

Barbaric jumps right back to that time to capture Detroit, specifically Brightmoor, when kids raced tricycles, front lawns were designed and green, and houses were painted blue and pink. This is 1980s Detroit, a radio ad alludes to the start of Ronald Reagan’s trickle-down economy, and the public’s first encounter with Frank (Richard Brake), one of the film’s villains. Single and the original owner of the Barbary Street house Tess is renting, Frank is unmoved when his neighbor tells him he’s moving out, warning him to wait for a sign because “the neighborhood is going to piss off, Frank”.

But Frank has agreed to stay. He cannot leave his hunting ground, and for the next four decades Frank emboldens himself as a serial killer, stalking and kidnapping women and imprisoning them in a catacomb-like maze carved out as an extension of the underworld. floor. Frank’s crimes are overlooked, racking up at least twenty victims. This is revealed by neighborhood hero Andre (Butler Jaymes) that years of rape and inbreeding gave birth to The Mother (Matthew Patrick Davis), the film’s first seemingly evil monster that lurks in the tunnels of the house. The revelation of the house’s history draws a parallel between Frank’s neglect of atrocities and the decay that plagued Brightmoor during his reign.

In the late 2000s, the global recession dismantled the consumer economy, significantly affecting number of people who bought cars. The aftermath rocked Detroit, and the city’s business titans like Ford, General Motors and Pontiac laid off thousands of workers and led to a 25% decrease in population. With layoffs at auto plants, workers migrated out of town, deserting their homes and deserting Detroit, leaving the city a gray field. Once-famous structures in the city like the Grand Ballroom, Vanity Ballroom, Packard Automobile Factory, and Lee Plaza Hotel are still vacant as of this writing.

The recession combined with poor urban planning, landlord scamsand an overtax scandal contributed to creating the communities represented in Barbaric. With the exodus to the city, new development businesses have emerged, leading to a market rife with low-cost shopping opportunities. Through companies like Airbnb and Vrbo, landlords have converted long-term rentals, typically used to house local residents and families, to short-term stays, further reducing housing supply.

The short-term housing effect, the housing shortage and recent inflation figures have caused housing prices in America to skyrocket and peak mortgage rates at their all time high in twelve years. Barbaric portrays this changing aspect of the Detroit real estate market through AJ Gilbride (Justin Long), a Hollywood actor whose career was recently destroyed when an actress he previously worked with accused him of sexual assault. AJ is the current owner of the Airbnb property that Tess is renting and is flying to Detroit to liquidate his rental properties, so he can afford his impending legal battles. It’s unclear how ownership passed from Frank to AJ, but it may have been through a foreclosure list than Michigan surpassed early last year.

As a landlord, AJ’s disregard for city ordinances and inability to maintain his property represents the disarray that short-term rentals have permeated the housing market. For example, in Detroit, an Airbnb property must be the host’s primary residence and the property must be inspected and reapproved by the City of Detroit’s Department of Buildings, Engineering, Safety and Environment. The two are ignored by AJ, who lives in Los Angeles and is shocked to find tenants staying at his Airbnb when he arrives at the property in Detroit. In fact, he completely ignores the total square footage of the house, especially the basement, and only proceeds with measurements when he finds out that the space could be counted in the property’s “gross living area.”

Barbaric Brightmoor is a microcosm for Detroit’s local communities, rotting under the scourges of city mismanagement and empty political politics. Although Airbnb shines the spotlight in the film, an assortment of historical factors anchored the city to its current state. Barbaric plot point – a serial killer and an inbred child are able to hide undetected for decades due to the neglect of the city’s metropolitan neighborhoods – is not so dubious given the reality of the housing crisis in Detroit. Through Google Maps Street View or a north side drive, the true horror of Barbaric is not found exclusively in the basement.

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