Barbarian Buries Its Nastiest Twists In The Most Satisfying Way Possible

This article contains major spoilers for "Barbarian."

When you rent an Airbnb, the most important step of booking the place is making sure everything is on the up and up. You never really know what's lurking in the corners of someone else's abode, after all. Once you take the gleefully twisted roller coaster ride that is "Barbarian," however, you're going to thoroughly inspect every crevice of the place, if not outright cancel any standing reservations.

It's become partly cliche to say that a movie like "Barbarian" will have a cultural effect in the same way "Jaws" did with water, but I challenge anyone currently staying in an Airbnb property to witness this movie and not think about packing your bags immediately after you get home from the theater.

Director Zach Cregger ("Miss March") is a certified madman. This is one of those rare cases where minimalist marketing was a smart choice on the part of the House of Mouse. Cregger even told CinemaBlend that he played a pivotal part in constructing the film's trailer, which gives you just enough ambiguous clues to pique your interest. The genius of "Barbarian" is you are just as lost and confused as the victims of this house, because there's no feasible way you can guess where this is all heading, due in part to its refreshingly unconventional narrative structure.

On the off chance you didn't heed my warning, this is your last chance to bookmark this for later before I start unveiling the secrets of "Barbarian," as I will not be held responsible for spoiling an insanely twisted horror film of this caliber.

An overbooking situation makes things awkward

"Barbarian" sets an unsettling mood almost immediately with Tess (Georgina Campbell) pulling up to the Barbary street property on a cold, rainy night. You know something is off. Maybe it's the choir of ghoulish wailing. Something bad is clearly coming. How it's going to manifest, however, is a mystery that keeps on your toes all the way to the end.

Things get complicated when Tess learns the home's owner double booked the place, with a man named Keith (Bill Skarsgård) already occupying the residence. This is where horror movie number one starts to unfold, as Keith extends an offer of letting her stay for the night before they can both get to the bottom of things in the morning.

Long before the terror in the basement makes itself known, "Barbarian" does an excellent job of preying on the fear of spending the night in a strange place with a man who may show all of the best intentions, yet he can't escape the internalized suspicion that they can become dangerous at a moment's notice. The two find great company in one another, but their bonding is still fraught with an unspoken tension.

It also doesn't help matters that no matter how hard he tries, Skarsgård's eyes are forever cemented with that of Pennywise. When it comes time to say goodnight, Tess wakes up to find her locked bedroom door open, along with Keith screaming in his sleep on the couch. Little do they know that this bump in the night is the best case scenario they could have hoped for.

Daylight reveals a nightmare on Barbary street

The terror of "Barbarian" lies in the horrors that conceal themselves in the dark, but when Tess steps outside for the first time, she's greeted with a brilliantly executed establishing pan that thrusts this home rental nightmare into horror movie number two. Imagine if you plucked a cute little suburban home and plopped it into an absolute nightmare of a neighborhood, where it's surrounded by abandoned, fire-eaten homes and dilapidated buildings as far as the eye can see.

This is the kind of unlivable neighborhood where you know nothing good can come from staying there. Why is this house even in the middle of this neighborhood? Even Tess' interviewer stumbles in shock when she learns where the Airbnb is located. To make matters worse, when Tess arrives back at the Barbary residence, a homeless man named Andre (Jaymes Butler) runs towards her, yelling that she needs to get out of the house. Once you know what's coming, you wish she had listened to him, but then again, a stranger sprinting towards you out of the blue in the middle of a rundown neighborhood doesn't exactly inspire trust.

Tess later takes a moment to explore the basement, albeit without her phone, and gets locked in the basement. She does manage to find a door, although it's far from an exit to freedom. Within the walls, she finds a rope that opens a hidden concrete void that leads directly to horror movie number three.

There's no way I'm going down there

The introduction of that black void in the wall is where "Barbarian" takes a hard turn. Tess, using what little light she has, takes a few steps in, coming across a dimly-lit room with a soiled mattress, a video camera, a bucket, and a partially bloody handprint on the wall. Naturally, this is the sign she takes to get out and never look back. Keith, on the other hand, just wants to see for himself before they pack everything up.

When Tess doesn't hear from Keith, she reluctantly makes the choice to go find him, finding yet another door that leads to a darkened staircase to hell that never seems to end. She keeps calling Keith's name, only to hear him yelling for help in the distance. All of the signs lead to bolting from this place as fast as she can, but Tess is an inherently good person who feels she needs to rescue him from whatever's down here.

Tess may find Keith deep within this claustrophobic labyrinth, but her nightmare is far from over. In a scare that made me jump just as hard the second time around, a naked and deformed woman emerges from out of the darkness and brutally kills Keith by repeatedly bashing his head against the cave wall until there's nothing left. The woman screams at Tess before cutting to black.

Cregger certainly has you by the throat now. How is Tess possibly going to get out of this? Let's find out by checking in on... Justin Long?

Cregger takes notes from a terrifying Hitchcock classic

In a genius move that will throw unassuming audiences off guard, "Barbarian" starts the movie over, as it now follows Justin Long's AJ, an actor who learns that his career is being upended due to a serious rape allegation levied against him from a co-star. Fearful of running out of money quickly, AJ stupidly heads off to Detroit to sell off a rental property for some quick cash. Here's where we learn that the Barbary street property is owned by him.

Cregger is phenomenal at heightening the tension to such lengths before leaving us dazed and confused. One can't help but think of "Psycho," where Hitchcock's classic starts as one movie, and then finds Janet Leigh's Marion Crane arriving at another horror movie in progress. We're led to believe she is the central protagonist before a monster we didn't know existed literally takes her out of the picture.

"Psycho" then becomes a movie about investigating the horror film Crane stumbled into, complete with a new batch of characters to follow. While there are many differences between the two, such as the dim-witted AJ having no direct ties to movie number one, "Barbarian" ultimately pulls off the same trick. It requires the same amount of trust between audience and filmmaker, and Cregger pulls it off magnificently.

An idiot finds a tape measure

In one of the film's biggest laughs, a drunken AJ finds the basement as well. But rather than freaking out, he gets really excited about the kind of money all of this extra space can bring in now that he has to sell his properties in order to not go completely broke. Whereas Tess took her time to apprehensively explore, AJ just starts measuring with a childlike glee.

This cursed environment littered with bloody handprints and rows of empty cages hardly phase him, that is, until the tape measure is yanked from his hands by the darkness.

Those first three horror movies converge with a fourth, as AJ's exploration lands him in a caged pit that's holding Tess prisoner as well. Just when you think this is about to become a mutual survival story, "Barbarian," like a magician, reveals its next trick with horror movie number five.

You can never really know who your neighbors are

"Barbarian" is proficient in giving you the best kind of movie whiplash, as we're suddenly transported back to the '80s. The neighborhood looks brand new. A mysterious man named Frank (Richard Brake) walks out of the beautiful home we've spent this nightmare in, and grabs a bunch of baby supplies at the store. The monster at the heart of "Barbarian" is revealed. We see Frank methodically stalking a young woman, infiltrating her house under false pretenses, and unlocking the window so he can sneak in later. When he arrives home, he opens the basement door to hear the screams of a young girl.

Not even AJ knew that below this idyllic little home was housing a labyrinth dungeon constructed by a deeply demented being, who has used it to harbor kidnapped women before raping them, followed by the children they produced.

Throughout "Barbarian," you're waiting for this supernatural, otherworldly presence to make itself known, but the kind of monster that Cregger is one that we live with every day. We just don't see it. There is no sunlight for a soul this dark and callous. The result of which is this naked and lanky woman known simply as "The Mother" (Matthew Patrick Davis), who mumbles more than speaks, trapped down there with the monstrous father who created her.

AJ's presence reveals the sinister thematic throughline

The thematic throughline of "Barbarian" is one that unfurls in a manner that requires so much trust on behalf of the filmmaker, and Cregger more than earns it. The movie that starts with Tess ends so AJ's movie can begin. Seemingly disconnected at first, you come to realize that AJ's presence is such an important piece of this messed up puzzle.

Not only does he serve as a happenstance throughline to Tess's fate, but the themes of Cregger's film as a whole. The underground tunnels seemingly never end with remnants of generational abuse scattered throughout. Prior to going getting caught up in the terror of his rental propery, AJ all but admits to raping the unnamed actor in a drunken stupor to his hometown friend.

AJ and Frank, while different in presentation, are thematically similar, as they have both used women against their will to fulfill their impulsive desires. It also shouldn't come as a surprise that the basement itself is the perfect metaphor for the lingering trauma that festers from the effect of sexual assault. The kicker, and the real terror, is this basement could belong to any number of unassuming men, both literally and metaphorically.

AJ's lengthy introductory scene of receiving the news from his representatives may come across as such a sharp deviation from the movie we were watching. But when things start to click into place, you realize what Cregger has just pulled off. Patience is the name of the game when it comes to "Barbarian," and boy, does it pay off.

"Barbarian" is now playing in theaters.