Unexpected feminism in horror film ‘Barbarian’



Georgina Campbell in the film “Barbarian.”

Taleise Lawrence, Assistant Editor

“Barbarian” was the scariest movie I’ve ever watched in my life. When I left the theater, my knees were weak. I could barely walk, and I almost threw up. My friends were in similar states. And yet, I went to see it a second time.
Zach Cregger’s film was full of twists. The trailer leads people to think they’re in for a slasher. Tess, played by Georgina Campbell, shows up late at night to the Airbnb she booked.
When she arrives, there is another person already staying there. Keith, played by Bill Skarsgård, is more than willing to share the house for the night. Tess is skeptical, but ultimately and with much hesitation, ends up spending the night with him.
Most people would likely assume what I did; Keith is the villain in this story. This classic set up for a slasher film, paired with Skarsgård’s reputation as a horror actor, makes the audience think they know exactly what will happen next. But this film doesn’t follow the typical patterns.
If you haven’t seen the movie yet, I would recommend stopping here. This review is not spoiler free; you have been warned.
When Tess accidentally locks herself in the basement while looking for toilet paper, she discovers a hidden underground hallway. At the end of this tunnel-esque walkway is a room where bad things have clearly happened. Like most people, Tess freaks out and wants to leave the Airbnb as soon as possible. Keith wants to see the room for himself before he leaves. This is where everything starts to really go downhill.
The Mother is lurking in the tunnels under the town. Having clearly never seen the light of day, her skin and eyes are pale and her hair is patchy. She stands almost 7 feet tall, with super strength and speed. You might think that she is the monster in this movie.
But she’s really not the monster, despite killing multiple people. At the end of the movie, we find out that the Mother is just as imprisoned as her victims were. Her father was an abusive man who did not have any empathy or love for her. He gave her a video on how to care for a newborn, and that was all she watched for 40 years. The Mother never wanted to kill people; she just wanted to have a baby and protect it. It was all she knew how to do.
The whole movie builds on the idea that men do not take women seriously or consider the dangers of being a woman. Keith doesn’t understand why Tess would be wary of spending the night with a stranger. AJ isn’t concerned about the creepy underground space; he simply measures the dimensions to make more money when he lists his house.
Andre dismisses Tess’ concerns about the Mother finding them.
Eventually, all the male characters die. They won’t listen or adapt to their environment like she did. Tess is the only one standing at the end.
The most heartbreaking scene was the last one. Tess knows she must kill the Mother if she wants to live. The Mother is clearly aware that she is going to die, but she allows Tess to shoot her anyway.
The final thing she does is give Tess a boop on the nose and say “buh-bye” before she dies. She gave up her own life to see her “child” live a good one, exactly like a parent would. Though the Mother never had a family of her own, she cared for and protected Tess like she was her own child in the only way she knew how.
This was definitely a horror film. At the same time, it was a story of the struggle of motherhood and of being a woman in a world where men do not believe you. I recommend seeing this movie, even if you’re a scary movie wimp like me.