How Barbarian’s Structure Redefines What Horror Is Throughout

Credit: Barbarian

2022 has seen plenty of tremendous horror films. However, when it comes to uniqueness, no other horror film stands out like Barbarian. The little gem stars Justin Long, Bill Skarsgard, and Georgina Campbell; it follows a young woman who discovers that a stranger is already occupying a rental home she has booked. Though skeptical, she goes against her better judgment and decides to spend the night, but she soon discovers that there’s more to fear than an unexpected house guest. First, the casting of Barbarian is brilliant. Bill Skarsgard has done plenty of notable roles, but to horror fans, he’s fresh off of playing Pennywise from Stephen King’s It. Although the synopsis clearly states that there are worse things to fear than an unexpected house guest, your mind immediately thinks that Keith is behind some evil deed the moment you meet him.

However, it’s not just Skarsgard’s pedigree that has you skeptical of Keith, but his actions throughout the film. Sure, he portrays himself as the nice guy in the first act, but we feel that he’s the charming thief, and when he’s trying to force Tess to follow him deeper into the tunnel, that confirms our suspicions even further. However, when Keith’s head is bashed in by “The Mother”, we’re thrown for a loop. This becomes the ultimate “what the hell is going on” moment until the film suddenly cuts to black and moves on to Justin Long’s character. 43-minutes in, and we’re suddenly focusing on a new character. This is strange because it breaks screenwriting rules. Usually, all the main characters are introduced within the film’s first ten minutes, yet Justin Long is getting the spotlight here.

Credit: Barbarian

This moment feels jarring. We’re finally getting the answer to what’s down in the basement, and the film cuts off to another character. This abrupt change in structure is quite clever. Focusing on AJ does break the tension of the previous scene, but that moment was so shocking that your mind started racing. Who is that creature? What the hell is going on? Once AJ’s douchebag character is established, the tension heightens once we get back to the house. In truth, we want AJ to die because it’s clear that he raped his co-worker. However, we still wonder what the hell is going on with Tess. Is she dead? Is she alive? The anticipation and dread are built as AJ check the home, and when it’s confirmed that Tess is alive, we’re relieved, but this strange creature wants AJ and Tess to lick a baby bottle. What!

What’s notable throughout is the unpredictable nature of Barbarian. Once the story unfolds, we start to understand “The Mother” even more, but we never fully grasp her actions until the final act. The Mother isn’t the monster in the film; Frank is; It changes our perception of who the true villain is. The naked woman running around murdering Keith, Andre (the homeless guy), and AJ is so damaged by Frank that her instincts become to protect her babies at any cost. When was the last time a creature of this nature was a sympathetic figure? It’s fascinating how Zach Cregger – the writer and director – has managed to craft a villain with incredible depth and layers.

Credit: Barbarian

On the one hand, you understand why her worldview is so gritty and violent. Unfortunately, that’s the trauma she’s had to deal with throughout her entire life. On the other hand, you can understand why Tess killed her in the end. While it’s understandable why so many people hated the ending, Tess doesn’t know who this mysterious creature is or her overall intentions. She understands what she wants, but do you think this murderous and overprotecting Mother will allow Tess to go home and live an overprotecting Barbariwilll-crafted horror feature that breaks the rules of the genre in more ways than one? It’s destined to be a cult classic for years to come.

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