In his film, “Barbarian,” Zach Cregger depicts the real nature of human beings. The narrative makes a comment that it is not always the external (or physical) deformities of an entity that are frightening, but quite often it is the internal malice that is much scarier. If we talk about looks, throughout the film we come across men who look more decent than usual, are quite handsome even, yet their actions are as ugly as can be. Their behavior is misogynistic across situations. And in the world, we live in, they don’t realize it is a mistake and, in many cases, consider it the fault of the other person to point out their flaw. The origin of a monstrous-looking creature in “Barbarian” is directly linked to the actions of a toxic man in society, and thus the film subtly introduces a protagonist who is wary of her male counterpart. Being raised in a society where such men exist, it is clear why Tess Marshall is so skeptical about them. “Barbarian” is divided into three parts that follow the introduction of a monstrous-looking creature; the introduction of the two antagonists in the second act; and a final third act that deals with the death of the monsters and the escape of the protagonist thereafter. So, without any further ado, let’s deep dive into the dungeons and find out who the real barbarian (or barbarians) is in the film.
‘Barbarian’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
Tess Marshall arrives in Detroit, Michigan for a job interview. She had applied for a research position with a documentary filmmaker named Catherine James. By the looks of it, it seems that Tess doesn’t have much money, and thus she had booked an Airbnb, 476 Barbary, in a rundown neighborhood, Brightmoor, through a property dealer named Bonnie Zane. As soon as Tess arrives at the location at night, she finds out that someone else is living in the house. She tries to contact Bonnie, but all her messages go directly into the voicemail. The person living inside the house, named Keith Toshko, tells her that he has booked the same house but on a different app named “HomeAway.” The house was probably listed on both the apps, which led to the confusion, and Bonnie Zane was not available on call to sort out the situation.
Looking at the heavy downpour outside, Keith humbly offers Tess to spend the night at the house. Tess seems skeptical at first, as spending the night with a strange “man” may turn into a horrible experience for life, yet she agrees. She doesn’t really trust Keith and keeps on inspecting his actions and items throughout the house, though after a bit of conversation, Tess and Keith become really friendly, and Keith, once again, in his humility, lets Tess take the bedroom to rest for the night. At midnight, Tess suddenly wakes up and finds that her bedroom door is open. She hears Keith murmuring something in his sleep that suggests that he is probably having a nightmare. The short scene is quite important as it establishes an ominous presence in the house. A sort of shadow is seen lurking near the corridor and the basement door.
The next day, Tess meets Catherine James and tells her about her Airbnb in Brightmoor. As soon as she hears the name Brightmoor, she tries to warn Tess not to live in that abandoned and eerie neighborhood, yet for some reason (probably lack of money), Tess ignores the warning. Later, when she comes back home, she gets locked in the basement, where she locates a hidden door and a strange room with a bed, a video camera, and a bucket inside it. Fortunately, Keith arrives at the house at the right moment, and through the basement window, Tess hands over the house key to him so that he can unlock the basement door. Later, Keith goes down to the basement to investigate the hidden room that has frightened Tess so much. When Keith doesn’t return, Tess goes back into the basement, only to find a hidden dungeon this time. She walks down into the dungeon and finds out that Keith has been bitten by a monstrous looking defromed female. Tess tries to help Keith when suddenly the creature smashes Keith’s head into the wall repeatedly and kills him brutally.
Without revealing Tess’s fate, the film jumps forward, and two weeks later, a person named AJ Gilbride arrives at the house. AJ is a television actor who has recently been accused of sexual misconduct by his co-star Megan Maddox, because of which the network has decided to drop him from the upcoming show. He decides to fight the legal battle, which may cost him a lot of money, and thus his wealth manager suggests he sell off some properties to bear the expense. AJ decides to sell his house in Brightmoor, which is exactly the same house which Tess and Keith had rented.
As soon as AJ arrives at the house, he finds Tess and Keith’s luggage scattered all over the house and gets certain that someone is living in the house, but he cannot see anyone around. The very next day, he decides to take a look into the basement to be certain that there is no one else staying in the house. As soon as he walks into the basement, he finds the hidden door, and the hidden room followed by the dungeon, just like Tess had found. However, as AJ walks further into the dungeon, he spots another room with a television inside it that is constantly playing a video of how to feed a newborn baby. But before AJ can figure out anything, the creature residing in the dungeons starts running after him, and as AJ tries to escape, he falls into a cage where the creature has kept Tess captive. The “Barbarian” further explores Tess and AJ’s struggle to escape the dungeon and save their lives. The movie also shows, in a subtle way, where the creature that is obsessed with “babies” came from.
Who Was The Creature Residing In The Dungeons? Where Did It Come From?
In the third part of the film, the narrative jumps back to the 1980s, where we see a man named Frank who lived in 476 Barbary, the same house that we had seen earlier. Frank probably worked for LADWP or somehow got a uniform from a LADWP worker to accomplish his sinister motives. The disguise would help him to get an entry into his victim’s home and plan a kidnapping later. So, who was Frank? And how was he related to the deformed woman in the basement?
As suggested in the film, Frank was a predator who used to abduct women from the neighborhood and later lock them up in the hidden room which we had seen earlier. He used to rape his victims and record the same on the video camera. He might have been doing this for a long time, probably, which was why his neighbor told him that they were selling their house and moving out as the neighborhood was going to hell. At the beginning of the flashback, we saw Frank buying some necessary items for a baby that was going to be born soon. That implied that one of his victims got pregnant (accidentally or not), and Frank was likely purchasing these items for the same reason.
It could be speculated that because everyone was leaving the neighborhood in the aftermath of these kidnappings, Frank might have fallen short of new victims, and thus he had decided to raise a daughter. The presence of a genetically deformed woman in the basement suggested that Frank might have raised and raped his own daughter. Such inbreeding perhaps led to the birth of a deformed woman who might be his granddaughter. He had probably locked the daughter and the newborn in the purple-lit room where the television constantly played the video of breastfeeding. That could have psychologically impacted the baby, so she got obsessed with feeding and nursing a baby. Though scientifically, inbreeding and incestuous relationships only lead to the dominance of a bad gene in the offspring (in some cases), the film “Barbarian” doesn’t shy away from taking cinematic liberties and thus gives us a genetically deformed woman who is obsessed with babies and milk-feeding. This woman, related to Frank, was only afraid of one person, and that person was the father, or the devil, Frank. It was for this reason that when AJ tried to escape her and walked towards Frank’s room in the dungeon, the dreadful creature didn’t dare follow him further.
‘Barbarian’ Ending Explained: Did AJ And Tess Make It Out Alive?
While the deformed woman was forcefully breastfeeding AJ, Tess used the distraction to escape the dungeon and finally came out of the house through the basement window. A homeless man who lived near the water tower asked Tess to leave the neighborhood as soon as possible, but her conscience didn’t allow it as she really wanted to save AJ from the clutches of the creature. She begged some cops to help her, but when she failed to gather any support, she decided to dive into the abyss once again in order to save the life of a stranger she had just met. The entire act of saving AJ’s life is significantly important in the film as it will make a clear distinction between Tess and AJ’s character.
The deformed woman had gone after Tess when she saw her “baby” trying to escape the dungeon, and AJ used the opportunity to run away. He came across an isolated room at the end of the tunnel where he found an old Frank in an unconscious state. By looking at the state of the room, we could speculate that Frank had been living there for a long time, and it was probably the deformed woman who had kept him alive. Frank finally woke up and asked AJ to give him something from the drawer, but AJ couldn’t understand, so he shifted the entire drawer towards his bed. In the meantime, AJ noticed some video cassettes on a shelf that had different labels, all titled with the woman’s name. Out of curiosity, AJ played one of these tapes only to find out the real nature of human madness. Though the “Barbarian” doesn’t visually reveal what was in the tapes, it was evident from AJ’s expression that these were the tapes of Frank’s victims that he had filmed in his hidden room. While AJ was cursing Frank for his sinister acts, Frank took out a gun from his drawer and shot himself in the head as he wanted to be free of his guilt (perhaps) and his mortal body.
At night, Tess broke into the house and recovered her car keys. She waited in her car for the creature to come out hunting for her, and as soon as she came running towards her, Tess rammed her car into the creature. At this moment, she probably believed that the creature was dead, and thus she went into the dungeons again to save AJ, where he was trying to escape as well. AJ thought that the creature was approaching him, and thus he shot in the darkness, and the bullet hit Tess. AJ attempted to assist Tess by escorting her out of the house, where they discovered the creature had vanished. The two decided to walk towards the water tower, which, according to Tess, was the only safe place, but it was not.
At the tower, the homeless man was just narrating to them the story of Frank’s gruesome acts that led to the creation of a monster when the creature attacked him and killed him. AJ and Tess tried to jump off the barbed fence, but when they failed to do so, they decided to climb the water tower. AJ, out of fear, totally left a bleeding Tess behind and climbed the tower while Tess struggled to do so in order to save her life. At the end of “Barbarian,” when AJ saw the creature approaching them, he threw Tess out of the tower, as he knew that the creature obsessed with babies would probably jump after her in order to save her baby. And that’s what she did. The creature, who looked like a monster, acted humanely and saved Tess’s life.
It was at this moment when the film happened to underline the fact that the one with deformities was not the real monster, but it was people like Frank and AJ who hid their true nature behind their perfect bodies. AJ, who ironically happens to own the same house as Frank, was accused of an aggressive sexual assault and, thus, even if he pleaded not guilty, at this point, we are certain that he was indeed guilty because AJ was a man of little or no conscience who would happily sacrifice or throw away another person’s life to save his own. The greed in his eyes was evident. When AJ climbed down the tower and showed his fake concerns to Tess, the creature rose up and killed him, which was the death he deserved (maybe).
Tess, on the other hand, knew that even if the creature didn’t mean any harm to her, she wouldn’t let her leave. The creature wanted to take Tess back to Frank’s house to nurse her as she was obsessed with it. It was not her fault entirely as she was raised in such a traumatic and toxic environment that nothing could have helped her and, thus, Tess decided to shoot her. In the end, Tess not only saved herself from the clutches of the creature but also freed the deformed woman from her own obsessions. But even though this torturous night had come to an end, the effects of such trauma were going to haunt Tess throughout her life. If she hadn’t decided to save AJ, then things would have been different. But then again, Tess was not as barbaric as Frank and AJ, which was the entire point of the film, I guess.
“Barbarian” is a 2022 Drama Thriller film directed by Zach Cregger.