Tess, in Barbarian, climbs a ladder to escape the Mother.

‘Barbarian’ Is a Horrifically Relatable Ride From Start to Finish

5/5 charming IKEA air bnbs

Horror movies can either bring to life everyone’s slasher nightmares or push the boundaries of what we’re willing to accept and force us to think about the world we’re living in. That’s the joy of the genre, and that’s exactly what Zach Cregger’s Barbarian does, taking us into the world of Tess (Georgina Campbell) as she heads to Michigan to interview for a job as a researcher for a film. It instantly puts the audience on edge with her housing situation.

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Tess arrives late to her Airbnb only to discover there are no keys in the door and that there is a man, Keith (Bill Skarsgård), staying there because the apps messed up their reservation. Through little moments where it is unclear whether Keith is a good or bad man, we get this feeling that Tess isn’t safe, and the whole film (which is separated into three parts that converge in the end) shows us just how frightening being lost and alone can feel, especially to a woman.

Georgina Campbell brings Tess to life in such a way that you understand her hesitations. You get why she is uneasy with Keith, why she’s on edge in the house, and all her actions because many of us have been in the kind of situation where we’re nervous to be around someone we’ve just met on our own.

A woman’s reality

The film preys on the fears that I know I’ve experienced as a woman—that horrible thought that you could end up being just another statistic, a victim because of someone else’s choices. When Tess is with Keith in the house, she goes through the motions of protecting herself. Keith warns her about the neighborhood, something we don’t see because it’s night, so she agrees to stay in the Airbnb with him. But she doesn’t accept drinks from him, doesn’t go into a room without locking the door, and has her guard up for most of the first section of the movie, until she starts to actually warm up to him and trust him.

The film uses that fear that so many of us have of being alone with a man we don’t know and twists it into a question of whether or not we can trust anyone, and it works so well for the story at large, given the advances of the male characters. The twist by the end of the movie is one that I personally saw coming because I navigate the world as a woman. I can’t say that those around me in my screening got the twist because I don’t know their own life experiences, but I know that, for me, I could see the pattern, the horrors, and when we got to the last section of the film, I knew the answers we (as the audience) were looking for were going to be a great deal scarier than what Skarsgård’s Pennywise has ever presented to us.

The use of male stars

One of the aspects of Barbarian that really elevates the fear that you have as an audience is the use of the male actors, and it works so well within the film with the idea of trust and existing in this world, and it’s definitely a highlight of Cregger’s story.

**Spoilers for Barbarian lie ahead.**

bill skarsgard in barbarian
(20th Century Fox)

Casting Bill Skarsgård as a normal man is some of the best casting in this world. My personal favorite ghoul, Skarsgård comes into Tess’s life as Keith, the man staying in her Airbnb, and the more we learn about him, the more (like Tess) we begin to trust him. And it is a great bait and switch of using an actor who you’d assume is the frightening aspect of this movie and turning him into a man that Tess could have actually trusted.

On the flip of that is American sweetheart Justin Long. AJ (Long, who many of us know from his comedy work), comes into the film as a “canceled” actor who was called out for his inappropriate behavior on the set of his television show where he sexually assaulted his co-star. And throughout the film, he seems to tell different versions of the story to the people in his life, so when he comes to his house in Michigan (which just happens to be the Airbnb that Keith and Tess are staying in) he’s confronted with the same horrors that awaited Tess and Keith, and we see how differently Keith reacts to what’s waiting for him in the basement versus AJ’s reaction.

Barbarian is a must-see

The film leaves you with a sense of evil lurking behind every corner. I was happy my screening was in the middle of the day so I didn’t have to walk home at night after it. I hope that it makes audiences think. I know that it really highlighted fears I have of being alone as a woman in this world, and it left me thinking of all the ways that people can take this film. So often, that fear of existing alone is rooted in the horror stories of what happened to a woman by herself, and Barbarian highlights that in multiple ways that I hope leaves audiences with a sense of pause as they leave the theater.

Barbarian is a must-see and will keep you on the edge of your seat in the best of ways.

(featured image: 20th Century Studios)


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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her current obsession is Glen Powell's dog, Brisket. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.