top of page

Haunted Towns (pt 1): Barbarian & Detroit, MI

Barbarian (2022) is a new horror film that explores many things including AirBnB woes and Detroit's Housing Crisis. Ghouls dive into this brilliant film and how it left them with much to unpack. Gabe explains the connections to Detroit's housing issues and Kat explores how we got here. What's haunting Detroit?

Sources in this Episode: Barbarian Ending Explained: The Horrors and Resilience of Womanhood Barbarian: Suburbia is Still the Scariest Place in America Detroit Under Fire: Police Violence, Crime Politics, and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Civil Rights Era Residential Segregation in Detroit

Reviews about Barbarian: Barbarian (2022) Movie Ending, Explained | High on Films Why Keith Had To Die In Barbarian (& What Happened To His Body?!) Barbarian: What Frank Did & Why He Shot Himself 'Barbarian' Filmmaker Zach Cregger Pulls Back the Curtain on the Film's Many Secrets Barbarian: Explaining the 2022 Horror Movie's Ending Barbarian Ending Explained (In Detail) Barbarian: A Descent Into the Familiar – The Twin Geeks Why Barbarian's Brightmoor Is the Perfect Symbol for Detroit's Housing Crisis Barbarian’s Detroit Setting Has A Deeper Meaning Than You Realize


Media from this week's episode:

Barbarian (2022):

A woman staying at an Airbnb discovers that the house she has rented is not what it seems.

Director: Zach Cregger


Barbarian (2022): The Horrors of Detroit's Housing Crisis by Gabe Castro

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

Barbarian is a new and original horror movie that has shooketh the horror community. Created by Zach Cregger, former member of The Whitest Kids You Know, I was slightly hesitant to watch it. However, I think comedy-creators at the helm of horror makes for great scares and a fun time (thanks Jordan Peele). The biggest thing about this film is that you shouldn’t know anything about it before you hop in. So, I highly, very seriously, ask that you watch the film before listening to me unpack it. It’s available on HBO Max and Hulu, so go out there and watch it! There is so much I can say about this film. A few different themes I could unpack. But this is our episode about Haunted Towns, so I’m going to try and steer it towards the haunted Detroit rather than the feminist undertones. I’m going to try.

The film opens on Tess, a young woman in her car on a rainy street. She scrolls through the text of an email containing the lockbox code for her Airbnb. The situation seems normal as she mumbles the code to herself (though it is wrong) before trying to unlock the box for the key. When she does open the box, the key is missing. Luckily, and strangely, someone is in the home and opens the door for her. And so the trailer’s teasing begins. Who is this guy and what is he doing in her Airbnb?

Bill Skarsgård plays Keith, the current guest of this double-booked Airbnb. Tess is a new final girl fave for me. Her gut and initial reaction to presumed danger really resonated with me. Immediately, Tess is on the fence about this handsome stranger. The audience is also wary of him, thanks to the stellar casting decisions (we cannot trust Pennywise). She takes many precautions and isn’t shy to let him know she is uncertain of him and cannot be played. She doesn’t drink his tea, she calls hotels for rooms, she checks his reservation confirmation, takes a photo of his ID, and she sleeps in the room with a lock on the door. Throughout the film, Tess behaves like any Final Girl should, aware of the dangers in our world and cautious of her place in it. Her only flaw we’ll come to know is that she is too kind.

Keith tries in all he does to put Tess at ease. In those attempts, he fumbles nervously. He is aware of her discomfort and caution, but every time he tries to dispel those worries, he only reinforces them. His constant insistence of his goodness and trustworthiness, makes us all the more wary. If you have to say it. She didn’t drink the tea, so he remarks on that and tells her she can watch him make another cup. He doesn’t open the wine until she’s around, hoping she’ll want to drink with him. All the while, his awkward attempts at genuine care come off as sinister. We cannot trust Pennywise. It’s not until he reveals who he is, a member of a jazz collective that has been buying up blocks of homes in Detroit to make affordable and accessible living spaces for Detroit folx that she softens to him. Though, as an audience member, this felt too convenient given that she was in Detroit interviewing for a position as a research assistant for a documentary on this very collective. Coincidence? Or carefully laid out plan for human trafficking?

In an article on Collider titled, Barbarian Ending Explained: The Horrors and Resilience of Womanhood, writer Raquel Hollman explains how this interaction and Tess’ overall caution, sets the tone for the entire film.

“Once Tess and Keith are able to interact on a human basis, she relaxes enough to explain to him how many precautions she had to take before calming down, while he never particularly felt as though his safety was ever in jeopardy. She even remarks how, if roles were reversed, Keith would have just settled right in without a second thought. This first act does a brilliant job at establishing the female gaze that governs most of the film. Women are often socialized to constantly watch over their shoulder and to regard unfamiliar men with caution. It’s the marked differences in socialization, and overconfidence in their own safety, that brings each of the men to their demise.”

Once this human connection is made, Tess loosens up and the film takes a sharp turn into romantic comedy. A montage of the cutest scenes occurs. Were this not a horror movie, wouldn’t this be the sweetest meet-cute? A story to tell their children! They have a wonderful night and Tess has herself thinking she may’ve stumbled into a real-life rom-com until she goes to sleep. She hears noises, her door is now unlocked and she can see/hear Keith twitching and mumbling in his sleep. Is he okay?

In the morning, Tess ventures back out to her car after reading a cute note from Keith wishing her luck on the interview. Now that we see the neighborhood in the light, it’s even more unsettling and terrifying than it was the rainy, dark night before. It feels sinister, forgotten, and foreboding. Keith had cautioned her the night before, saying he wouldn’t even go around the neighborhood at this time of night. At the time, it fueled our mistrust of him. Why is he trying so hard to get her to stay? But in the daytime, we can see why he was worried. This is not the suburbs, this is a desolate, apocalyptic wasteland.

Tess eventually goes to her interview. It seems to go well until the filmmaker asks where she’s staying. When she learns that Tess is in Brightmoor, she becomes visibly worried. No one should be staying there. This is one of the hints that something truly sinister is occurring. This abandoned and broken neighborhood seems to have sad secrets. The horror movie kicks in when Tess ventures to the basement to find some TP. She gets locked in and soon discovers a hidden hallway to which she promptly “Nope”s before eventually final girling a way to see in the dark. She stumbles into the secret space to find a truly horrifying room. It’s dirty, contains only a single stained bed, a video camera, and questionable bucket. When she is freed from the basement by Keith, she is shook. Panicking, she begs Keith to leave. He brushes off her obvious fear, she must be hysterical. He reasons that a strange room with a bucket and camera is not enough to send him running. When he goes to investigate, he begs her to stay in case he’s locked in. And Tess’ folly begins. He’s gone for far too long so she goes to find him leading to a new, secret tunnel leading farther down. In this horrifying tunnel, she is very clearly terrified. She is shaking and calling out for Keith. She sees all these red flags. After a truly harrowing encounter that will leave you pondering what this movie is actually about, the film snaps over to an entirely new character.

Justin Long plays AJ, the owner of this Airbnb who has flown to Detroit after being accused of r*pe. He looks to sell the place to pay his legal fees. When he arrives at the house to find traces of another human’s presence he isn’t scared or worried, he’s angry. How dare someone be in MY house. He is continually the worst but his behavior towards the discovery of the secret rooms is what sets him apart from Tess. Instead of acknowledging the red flags and creepiness of the basement and secret tunnels, he, like Keith, brush it off, neither of them conditioned to be wary of their surroundings, to be on guard. We’re given quite a bit of comedy to relieve the stress. My favorite being the tape measure scenes. AJ eventually runs into the “villain,” not my villain, of the story, Mother and the film spirals back into horror.