Why It’s a Relevant Take on Accountability, Abuse, and Society

With the lineup of horror films released in Fall 2022, Barbarian was the unexpected standout from the lot. Filmmaker Zach Cregger cleverly takes a common scenario; the risks of sharing an Airbnb with a complete stranger, and inflates it to deliver a truly horrifying, and notably, thought-provoking experience. From dissecting social constructs, destitute communities, and an abuser’s lack of accountability, Barbarian gives audiences one of the darkest takes on our modern world.

Brightmoor Detroit

House in Barbarian
20th Century Studios 

One of the major themes in Barbarian is destitute communities. When Tess Marshall arrives in Brightmoor, she hesitates to even walk up to her Airbnb due to the neighborhood’s dilapidated appearance. To her surprise, Tess finds that another Airbnb user, Keith Toshko, is already occupying the space. With no conceivable alternative, Tess accepts Keith’s offer to share the space despite being unsure of his intentions. While everything goes well throughout the night, Tess is warned by her interviewer the following day of Brightmoor’s unflattering reputation.


The neighborhood’s destitute condition becomes apparent in the daylight–houses are abandoned, vandalized, and there isn’t a resident in sight. To aggravate matters, Tess is pursued by a stranger as she attempts to reenter the Airbnb. Tess’s ordeal is a commentary on an outsider’s reactions to destitution. Brightmoor’s condition is incomprehensible to Tess considering her own metropolitan livelihood outside this neighborhood. Nevertheless, Brightmoor’s condition reflects many neglected neighborhoods in Detroit, and the U.S. for that matter.

Related: Barbarian Director Zach Cregger Says ‘Elevated Horror’ is a ‘Useless’ Term

An Outsider’s Perspective

barbarian 2022
20th Century Studios

Aside from Tess’s bewilderment at Brightmoor’s destitution, her decisions range from intelligent to questionable. Tess is apprehensive at spending the night with Keith in the Airbnb; she refuses to drink anything Keith offers her, hesitates to soften her guard, and locks every door in the house–Tess is clearly aware of the dangers involved in spending the night with a complete stranger. Yet, her later discoveries turn Tess from an intelligent protagonist to an aloof victim in the works. When Tess discovers a hidden room in the Airbnb’s basement, she only briefly hesitates before descending its stairway, only to find a room used for captivity and torture.

When Tess explains the situation to Keith, he boldly goes to explore the room, with Tess following him after some objection. Though Tess refuses to descend into the room a second time, Keith’s cries for help prompt her to act…only to witness his murder at the hands of “The Mother” minutes later. Tess clearly makes dooming decisions, but they are justified: she is the moral compass in Barbarian. The harrowing events occurring before her are sudden and unprecedented. Tess isn’t only an outsider to destitute communities such as Brightmoor; she is an outsider to the barbaric acts that befall anyone subjected to the horrors committed in that room.

The Mother

The Mother
20th Century Studios

The Mother is the only surviving creature from a series of women that spent their entire lives victimized by Brightmoor’s social deviant, Frank. Though The Mother is barbaric in appearance, she is merely a byproduct of neglect, abuse, and Brightmoor’s misogyny. The Mother is a metaphor for every woman that has been abused to the point of lacking life’s bare essentials.

Related: Barbarian: A Breath of Fresh Air to the Horror Genre

20th Century Studios

Brightmoor’s community decline isn’t isolated to the neighborhood’s upkeep and rundown homes; it extends to its citizens. In a flashback explaining Frank’s history, Brightmoor is shown as a picturesque neighborhood with amiable residents; nevertheless, the community’s on the decline as residents relocate from their homes. The community decline in Barbarian is more than anything, a shift reflecting political tensions in mid to late 1900s America. With varying ethnicities relocating to metropolitan areas in Detroit, residents left their homes over political and racial tensions. The result being a general neglect from the city towards these changing neighborhoods.

With no one to patrol Brightmoor for criminal behavior, Frank’s atrocities go unnoticed. For those who do notice (such as Andre), their immediate needs–housing, nourishment, and employment–take importance. Frank is an example of deviancy enabled by neglected communities.

Frank and AJ Gilbride – Abuse and Accountability

20th Century Studios

Frank and AJ Gilbride are one and the same through abuse. While Frank is the classic definition of a sexual assaulter through his captivity and abuse of women, AJ is a modern day version of it. When sitcom actor, AJ Gilbride, is accused of sexual assault by his costar, he not only denies the claims but deflects the blame back at his victim. Similarly to Frank, AJ repeatedly pursues his victim over the phone and even threatens to slander her reputation–they both lack accountability, remorse, and remain relentless in their abuse. Frank abducts and assaults women for decades; AJ extends his abuse from the physical to the psychological assault of his victim. The Mother may be the barbarian in appearance, but the barbarian in question are both Frank and AJ– extensions of every sexual assaulter that plagues a community and evades the justice system, and the darkest message Barbarian drives home for audiences.