Content Warning: this article discusses sexual assault.
The film Barbarian is a critically acclaimed horror film that was released on Sept. 9, and is a nerve-wracking experience because of the parallels that it draws to real life, especially for those who identify as women.
American actor Zach Cregger both wrote and directed the film, and the cast includes the appearance of Georgina Campell as Tess, Bill Skarsgård as Keith and Justin Long as AJ, who are the lead characters in the film.
The casting in itself was incredibly intentional, since the director wanted the audience to be instantly afraid of Skarsgård’s character, Keith, when he appeared on screen. Skarsgård and his previous work in thrillers such as It does a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to instilling a sense of fear
The movie starts with Georgina Campbell’s character, Tess, driving around Detroit at night trying to find the AirBnB she booked. Once she finds its location, she comes to find that Keith was already settled in the same AirBnB she booked.
Due to the booking issue and the storm that was happening outside, Tess is given no option but to stay with Keith until morning. Soon enough though, she realizes that Keith’s strangely awkward behaviour should be the least of her worries, since the house that they are staying at has a secret underground chamber occupied by a mother-like creature who is a product of generations of incest.
From the jump, the audience can sense the fear that Tess feels as she interacts with Keith. She heavily distrusts him as a defense mechanism, because she is aware that she is likely being exposed to a life-threatening situation by staying the night with a strange man. As their bond grows stronger throughout the first act of the movie, Tess even vocalizes to Keith that it is unfair how men don’t often think about their safety in the same way that women do. Throughout their stay, Keith is never worried about Tess’s intentions, but of course Tess is defensive and anxious because of what Keith could possibly do to her.
The backstory of the mother that resides in the depths of the basement is incredibly tragic. The original owner of the property, Frank, frequently kidnapped young women from Detroit, and kept them hostage in his basement to assault them and reproduce with them, recording it all on video. After several rounds of incest at the hands of Frank, the mother was born with several deformities that make her look of supernatural origin.
Despite how strong and powerful the mother is, we learn that she never had the guts to kill her father and abuser, Frank. After Keith, Tess and AJ (the new owner of the property) all explore the tunnel in the basement, the only one that makes it out alive is Tess, mainly because the mother protects her, while harshly killing Keith, AJ and any other man that threatens her.
In a way, the mother does this because she is a victim of oppression at the hands of men, in a similar way that Tess is. Throughout the movie, both Keith and AJ mistreat Tess in different ways. The mother understands Tess’ struggles because she, too, has been abused and mistreated by the men in her life.
Overall, the film discusses the real horrors of womanhood. The movie’s scare factor doesn’t hinge on spirits and monsters, but rather on the real mistreatment and fear that women live with on an everyday basis.