Content warning: This article contains accounts of sexual assault, incest, and suicide as depicted in the movie “Barbarian.”
“Barbarian,” the new horror film written and directed by Zach Cregger and streaming now on HBO Max, stars Georgina Campbell as Tess Marshall, a young woman who books an Airbnb in Detroit to stay in during a job interview. But when she arrives, she finds another person, Keith (Bill Skarsgård), is already staying there, claiming he made a reservation on another rental site. Tess is unsettled but decides to stay there with him anyway. The film takes viewers on a terrifying (and often hilarious) journey.
“Barbarian”‘s horror really begins when Tess goes down into the basement of the rental to get toilet paper, and the door locks behind her. She explores the basement and finds a secret, dark hallway. Down it, she finds a room where someone was obviously locked up. When Keith returns, he refuses to take Tess’s word for it and decides to explore the basement himself. He ends up wandering even further down and finds a dark and scary stairwell. Tess searches after him. It’s then that a mysterious figure appears and kills Keith.
Then, viewers learn more about this strange rental property. It’s owned by AJ Gilbride (Justin Long), a Hollywood big shot who owns multiple rental properties in Michigan. His career is destroyed, however, when an actress he’s working with accuses him of rape. He heads to Detroit to try to liquidate his properties, and he stays at the same house Tess and Keith were in. He’s freaked out to find all their stuff still in the house, but then he explores the basement and finds the extra rooms. Instead of being afraid, however, he starts to wonder how much extra value he could get for the house because of the extra space and starts the deranged task of measuring it. The creature finds him and locks him in a cage with Tess.
A flashback helps explain some of what’s going on. During the ’80s, Frank (Richard Brake) lived in the house and kidnapped women and kept them down below. But there are still some things that need to be figured out.
Tess tells AJ the creature just wants to be a mother and they can live if they pretend to be the creature’s baby. But when AJ refuses to drink from her giant bottle, she snatches him, giving Tess the opportunity to escape to the street. She meets Andre (Jaymes Butler), a homeless man who urges her to get away before the Mother comes out at night, but Tess won’t give up without AJ.
Meanwhile, AJ finds old man Frank in a room in the basement. At first, he thinks Frank is a victim, but then he sees a collection of videotapes of the women Frank abused. Frank takes a gun out of his side drawer and kills himself. AJ takes the gun and runs toward the exit, but when he’s startled by Tess in the dark, he shoots her. Tess lives, and they run away together.
They eventually meet Andre again, who helps them hide from the Mother. He tells them Frank started to have children with the women he kidnapped and then had more children with the children of those children. The Mother is the product of all that incest. AJ, seemingly inspired by Tess’s bravery, says he’s turning over a new leaf and will be a good person now.
After Andre says his hideout is safe from the Mother, she surprise attacks them, killing Andre. She chases AJ and Tess to the top of a water tower. AJ accidentally drops the gun off the side of the tower, leaving the pair defenseless against the Mother. But then AJ has a sick and twisted idea — he tells the Mother to come get her baby and throws Tess off the tower. The Mother follows after. From above, it seems they both died on impact.
AJ goes to check on them and realizes Tess, who landed on top of the Mother, lived. He makes excuses to her about how he didn’t really mean to throw her. The Mother, who also lived, kills AJ brutally.
Then, she and Jess share a sweet moment, and the Mother says bye and asks Jess to shoot and kill her. Jess does.
All that’s left is the question of who the “barbarian” is. The house is on Barbary Street, making the Mother, since she lives there, the Barbarian. But the real villains are Frank and AJ, who both abused women with impunity, making them the true barbarians.