The Monster In ‘Barbarian’ Is Uniquely Disturbing, And Unforgettable

Barbarian has emerged as one of the most compelling horror movies of 2022, with a uniquely disturbing monster at the heart of the film.

Barbarian shines a light on the everyday terror of womanhood, where an unhinged predator might just be camouflaged as a friendly stranger. The film begins with a woman named Tess (Georgina Campbell), discovering that her rental home is already occupied by a man known as Keith (Bill Skarsgard, known for playing Pennywise the Clown in It).

Keith seems earnest, polite, and eager to please – suspiciously so, in fact. But Tess, seemingly stranded in a dilapidated neighborhood, decides to trust her instincts and stay the night.

The first half of the film is bubbling with tension, in which every friendly gesture seems like a glaring red flag. But when Tess discovers a secret room in the basement of the house, the film switches gear, as a shocking plot twist turns the situation on its head.

And if you haven’t yet seen the film, you should stop reading now.

Warning – Major Spoilers Ahead

Tess uncovers a bare room, featuring only a bed, a bucket, and a camera on a tripod. If this wasn’t bad enough, there’s another secret door within, that leads to a network of subterranean tunnels, built by the previous occupant of the house.

Keith, it turns out, really was a nice guy. But he gets his head smashed in by the film’s memorable monster, the Mother (Matthew Patrick Davis) who then captures Tess. At this point, Barbarian has spent so much time building up the threat of Keith, and the danger of the solitary male, that her sudden appearance is genuinely shocking.

The Mother is towering, naked, and filthy; she seems like a ghoul, a mutant, something less than human.

Her backstory, however, proves more disturbing than any supernatural origin could. The previous owner of the house, Frank (Richard Brake), proves to be the titular barbarian, and the most monstrous creature in the film.

Frank is a serial killer and rapist, who has been kidnapping women for decades, and imprisoning them in that squalid room in the basement. The Mother is the product of generations of incest, rape and forced birth, raised in the most wretched and abusive conditions imaginable.

She spends her days trawling the corridors, obsessively watching a video tape that teaches young mothers how to care for their newborn babies. At night, the Mother stalks the streets, searching for victims to drag back to her lair, where she “takes care” of them against their will, switching between intense violence and suffocating love; she knows no other way.

The film introduces another character, AJ (Justin Long), one of Hollywood’s successful sexual predators who finally gets #MeToo’d. After heading back to his house to lay low, he discovers the secret room (and instantly googles how his property value will increase with the extra space).

AJ ends up trapped down there with Tess, who tries to explain the Mother’s intentions to him; Tess has survived thus far because she sees the glimmer of the Mother’s humanity. But AJ can’t accept it, and refuses to drink from the Mother’s grimy milk bottle. In one of the film’s most disturbing scenes, AJ is dragged back to the Mother’s room, and forced into breastfeeding.

There is something uniquely horrifying about a monster who is genuinely attempting to express love, but their distorted understanding of it results in terrible suffering. The breastfeeding scene brings to mind a famously disturbing scene from Frankenstein, which sees the monster playfully throw a little girl into a lake, under the impression she would float; instead, she drowns.

The Mother echoes Frankenstein, being a misshapen creature brought into the world through an unnatural process, unloved, isolated, and ultimately, sympathetic. She is the product of Frank’s monstrous crimes, and unwittingly carries on his legacy, through her desperation to nurture.

To prepare for the role, Davis studied profiles of feral children and adults, watching videos while his prosthetics were applied, diving deep into “a dark, disturbing YouTube rabbit hole.” Discussing his research, Davis stated:

“It opened me up to the reality of the lives of people that have been deeply abused, raised in cages, raised like animals, kept in the dark and never spoken to in their formative years. It allowed me to have empathy for this character … If you’ve seen the movie, you know that she’s a victim.”

The Mother also veers far enough away from reality to make her a great movie monster; she’s freakishly tall, unnaturally strong and durable, with hands resembling talons. Despite her beast-like appearance, her instincts prove more empathetic than both AJ and Frank.

One of the most unsettling moments in the film sees AJ flee down a tunnel, into a room where the elderly Frank still lives. Frank is bedridden and pathetic, surrounded by empty booze bottles. But the Mother is too frightened to follow AJ into the room.

The film’s finale sees Tess, who has made the baffling decision to try and rescue AJ, brutally sacrificed by AJ in an attempt to save himself. The Mother throws herself in harm’s way to save Tess, and spends her final moments caressing her tenderly.

When Tess puts a pistol to her head, the Mother doesn’t seem to understand what’s about to come. Tess hesitates to pull the trigger, but when she does, it feels more like a mercy killing than a moment of triumph.

The Mother lingers in memory, not because of her depravity, but her empathy; she might be a malformed manifestation of misogynistic violence, but she proves to be one of the most human characters in the film.