Barbarian Ending Explained: Be My Baby

One of the most downright surprising studio movies of 2022 has arrived in the form of "Barbarian," the latest from Disney's 20th Century Studios. The film comes from writer/director Zach Cregger, and it serves as one of the first major horror releases of the fall season as we gear up for Halloween. But it was hard for anyone to imagine what they were in for, as the trailer (fortunately) gave very little away other than the film's basic set-up. By the time we get to the third act, there is a great deal to discuss, and that is precisely what we're here to do today.

The ending of this film warrants a great deal of conversation, to say the least. So we're going to break down exactly what happens and what it all might mean. But be warned, we're going to take a trip to spoiler country, and that is a trip that should be avoided for those who have not seen the film yet.

Warning: major spoilers ahead for "Barbarian." Proceed with caution.

A brief recap

To briefly recap, the film sets in motion when Tess (Georgina Campbell) arrives at her rental home in Detroit, Michigan the night before a big job interview, only to discover a man named Keith (Bill Skarsgard) is already in the house she is supposed to be staying in. It turns out the place was double-booked by the agency AJ (Justin Long) had contracted to handle his properties, as he is living in Los Angeles doing actor things (more on him in a second). Ultimately, after some discomfort and confusion, Tess and Keith decide to both stay in the house. They get through some awkward conversation, flirt a bit, and all seems fine... until it doesn't.

Following Tess' job interview, she heads back to the house, and this is where things start to go wrong. A homeless man chases her into the house, and the police are unavailable. While looking for some toilet paper, she gets locked in the basement and discovers that there is a hidden passageway down there, complete with a nasty room featuring a camera, a dirty bed, and a bucket, not to mention a bloody handprint on the wall. When Keith gets back, he breaks her out of the basement, and Tess threatens to leave in a frightful panic. But Keith begs her to stay while he investigates the basement for himself.

Once Keith is gone for a while, Tess opts to go investigate — albeit reluctantly — and she discovers there is much, much more to this cavernous, horrifying basement. After descending further into the basement of horrors, Tess finds Keith, who has found someone (or something) else hiding down there. What we come to find is there is a horrifying, mystery woman down there who kills Keith and holds Tess captive.

The mood changes

We then cut to what seems like an entirely different movie, meeting up with AJ in LA, having a good time singing a song gleefully in his car. But suddenly he gets some bad news his agents: A co-star has accused him of sexual misconduct, which completely upends his career. With few choices left and his money about to run out very quickly, he heads to Detroit to try and unload some of his rental properties for some fast cash. And wouldn't you know it? His first destination is the very same retinal property where the first act's terror unfolded.

AJ is self-obsessed and oblivious, declining to investigate the basement for his first day there. But when he finally does discover the secret passage, he is more excited about the square footage that could sweeten a real estate sale rather than the creepy nature of it. Of course, he comes across this terrifying wannabe mother in the basement that captures him right along with Tess.

This is where the picture really comes into focus, as the monster-like mother is trying to give them both milk from a bottle in their cage. AJ is, understandably, reluctant to suck on the bottle (especially since some of the woman's hair is lingering on the bottle's teet), but Tess understands that she just wants them to be her babies. When AJ refuses, he is dragged to the nursing room for a harsh lesson, and a more natural yet disturbing way to drink the milk, if you catch my drift. This provides Tess the opportunity to escape and try to find help. Unfortunately, help isn't coming.

A product of your environment

Tess finds some cops nearby who instantly believe she is a drug addict or something of the like, given the run-down nature of the town and troubles that Detroit has overall. These cops are overworked, have seen it all, and are very much not here for stories of murderous women in basements. They are very much products of the environment they work in, which has resulted in them becoming numb to people who truly need help, and that leaves Tess on her own. Well, sort of. That homeless man from earlier did offer her some help, explaining that the mother comes out at night, and she needs to be gone before then. But she can't leave AJ to die. So she breaks back into the house, grabs her car keys, and rather than driving away when she sees the horrifying mother storm out of the house, she smashes the woman's body against the house with her car.

Meanwhile, AJ is wandering the basement trying to find a way out, and he comes across another secret room with something even the mother is scared of. This is the movie's real monster. A flashback with Frank (Richard Brake) reveals that the house used to be part of a vibrant neighborhood, yet was home to a truly barbaric (!) monster. This man captured multiple women and kept them in that basement, using them for his sick pleasures. The mother seen terrifying our protagonists is the result of these sick pleasures. Again, a product of her environment.

There's a major element of tragedy to go along with her monstrous nature. She didn't choose to be born in a lightless basement with only a video on nursing children ad a history of forced inbreeding to inform her mind. Yet, that's what happened, and that bred a monster with one purpose. She wants a baby to take care of, and these are, in her mind, her babies now. Even Frank, decrepit and living in his own filth, has had enough and puts a bullet in his head when he's able to reach a gun that he couldn't reach without AJ's help. He eventually succumbed to the hellish environment he created. That gun also allows AJ a way out of the basement, but what he isn't counting on is Tess coming back for him. In the darkness, in a tragic moment of confusion, he shoots Tess in the stomach. He is panicked and remorseful (at least for now), and they head up to the street to try and find safety.

A not-so harrowing escape

Unfortunately, mother is once again on the loose, having broken free from being smashed against the house. They head to the water tower for help, as the homeless man from earlier claimed he was safe there and has been for some time. But did we really believe they were going to be safe?

Here, we learn a bit more about what happened in that house, with decades of inbreeding and awfulness at the hands of Frank creating that monster. A metaphor for generational trauma, perhaps? AJ insists that they have to get Tess help, as he reckons with the fact that he might actually be a monster himself. For one brief moment, we think AJ might have something worth redeeming inside of him. However, that is short-lived. Mother comes crashing in through the wall, kills our poor, helpful homeless man, leaving Tess and AJ to scramble for safety, climbing the stairs of the water tower in an attempt to get away. AJ's true colors shine bright again, as he leaves Tess, wounded and slow, to let himself get away. But it's about to get so much worse.

Tess and AJ make their way to the top of the water tower, but they quickly realize there is nowhere to go. In another irredeemable moment for AJ, he fumbles the gun as he attempts to shoot at mother climbing the stairs, leaving them unprotected. Realizing that the mother wants Tess, he uses her as a human shield/distraction, throwing her off the damn water tower, knowing that the mother will go after her. As Tess falls, mother doesn't hesitate to jump over the side of the water tower after her. The moment of seeing her take that dive is one of the most remarkable bits of levity in a horror movie I can recall in a long, long time. Mother is successful in saving Tess, but at her own peril. Mother was able to grab Tess and land under her body, and the terrifying matriarch appears dead on the street under the injured Tess. When AJ goes to investigate, he finds out the hard way that mother survived. She gashes his eyes out with her sharp nails and literally rips his head open. 

Be my baby

This leaves Tess alone with mother, who recognizes that her adoptive baby is hurt. Mother does not mindlessly want to hurt Tess or keep her captive. In her mind, as a product of her f****d up environment, this mother believes she is doing the right thing for her child. Tess, sort of seeming to realize the shreds of humanity behind that monster's eyes, plays this up for a few moments, allowing her just enough time to reach for the gun and blow her captor's head off. Tragic though the story of that mother may have been, there was no way she could have been left alive. The cycle of trauma and terror was finally broken. Credits.

In another chuckle-worthy moment in the theater, "By My Baby" by The Ronettes plays over the credits, sort of putting a button on all of the craziness that just unfolded. But that song actually carries with it more than a little meaning. The nameless monster wasn't some experiment cooked up in a lab, nor was she some killer animal mankind hadn't discovered yet. Rather, she was a tragic product of mankind's worst behaviors who had no choice in what she became. She knew only of parenthood thanks to a worn out VHS tape that was purchased by Frank as an accessory to his sick desires.

All this mother wanted was a baby. She was just carrying out her prime directive as dictated by her environment. Tess, Keith, and AJ merely became the unfortunate final victims in that cycle of fulfilling sick desires. Somewhere, deep below that repulsive gray tissue, was something almost human. There was something human enough to want to care for a child in the only way she knew how — it just wasn't human enough to be kept alive.

But this all started with Tess feeling like she had been held captive by men in toxic relationships. So, in a way, this ending could also be seen as Tess taking agency over her life and breaking the cycle of captivity for herself as well. A product of her old environment no more, she's going to start a new life with an assuredly new lease on life, especially given her harrowing ordeal.

"Barbarian" is playing in theaters everywhere now.