This article contains spoilers for Barbarian (2022).
Barbarian is one of the most unpredictable movies of the year. From the moment its protagonist, Tess (Georgina Campbell), arrives at her Airbnb rental in the film’s opening scene, Barbarian is hellbent on pushing its characters into uncertain territory. However, once Tess discovers the hidden entrance to an underground tunnel in her rental house’s basement, Barbarian quite literally tosses viewers into the deep end. It’s only minutes later, after all, that Tess watches as her accidental housemate, Keith (Bill Skarsgård), has his head smashed in by a giant monstrous woman known only as The Mother (Matthew Patrick Davis).
Thanks to a helpful flashback that comes near the end of the film’s second act, we learn that the house Keith and Tess rented was once owned by Frank (Richard Brake), a kidnapper and rapist who built a secret network of tunnels beneath his house. We later learn that Frank used to trap the women he kidnapped in said tunnels, and he’d not only rape and torture them but also any of the children that were born afterward.
This horrific, stomach-churning cycle eventually produced The Mother, a mutated woman who was born and raised in Frank’s tunnels and has spent years searching for a “baby” to raise as her own. Unfortunately for Tess, she’s exactly the kind of “baby” that The Mother has been searching for.
Tess spends weeks trapped underground before she is given a sudden chance to escape when AJ Gilbride (Justin Long), the narcissistic actor who owns Frank’s former house, unwittingly distracts The Mother long enough for her to make her way out of the home’s tunnels. While Tess is gone, AJ discovers the underground “bedroom” where an elderly Frank has taken up residence. He unwittingly informs Frank that cops will soon be crawling through the house’s tunnels, prompting Frank to shoot himself in order to avoid facing any form of justice. Equipped with Frank’s gun, AJ reunites with Tess and the pair make their escape from the house.
After accidentally shooting Tess in the stomach, AJ states that he is going to make sure she gets to the hospital. In the moment, his proclamation is meant to feel like AJ’s attempt to try to fix some of his past mistakes — namely, the sexual assault he committed against one of his former co-stars. AJ’s moment of redemption is quickly erased, though, when The Mother catches back up with them.
In response, AJ throws Tess, The Mother’s chosen “baby,” from the top of a water tower in order to save himself. However, when both Tess and The Mother survive their fall, AJ has his eyes promptly gouged out by The Mother, who in turn is shot by a bleeding Tess.
Barbarian then ends with Tess stumbling her way through the streets of Detroit while “Be My Baby” plays over its closing credits. It’s a fittingly odd, violent way for Barbarian, itself an odd and violent film, to end. But like all great horror movies, Barbarian justifies Tess’ survival. Unlike AJ, who was only ever motivated by his own narcissism, Tess survives because she’s able to empathize with The Mother, which allows her to correctly respond to each of the increasingly strange situations she finds herself in throughout Barbarian.
For a film that’s so much about exploring the darkness that lies beneath the surface of so many places and people, it makes sense that Barbarian ends not with AJ but Tess, its most empathetic character, stumbling her way back to civilization just as the sun, finally, begins to rise again.
Barbarian is playing in theaters now.
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