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Barbarian Ending Explained: Who Is The True Villain Of The Creepy Horror Film?

Georgina Campbell in Barbarian at door of attic
(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

MAJOR SPOILERS ahead for Barbarian! If you haven't seen the movie, we're about to get into the plot and details about how it ended. 

Summer 2022 delivered Jordan Peele’s latest horror flick Nope, and now, we’re ending the season with Barbarian, directed by Zach Cregger. The horror film, starring the talented Barbarian cast featuring Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, and Justin Long, created a stellar movie showing just what lies beneath the surface of a seemingly normal home. 

For those who are wondering who the true villain of this insane horror/mystery was, and how our main characters ended up, look no further for the Barbarian ending explained.  

Barbarian

(Image credit: 20th Century Films)

The Neighborhood That Went To Hell

Barbarian first starts out with things seeming normal as our main character, Tess (Georgina Campbell) arrives at an Airbnb for an interview that she has in Detroit, finding the home double-booked.  The only issue is that it is also occupied by a young man named Keith (played by Bill Skarsgård)

At first glance, the movie almost paints Keith out to be the villain. He’s acting particularly sketchy and of course, the audience is set to believe that he might end up being the killer.

But that is snuffed out quite quickly -- within the first hour, in fact -- as Keith’s character is killed by one of the antagonists of the film, The Mother, within the system of tunnels and basements that were located deep beneath the house. It seemed that, as sketchy as he appeared at first, he genuinely did care about Tess.

It’s not until later on -- after AJ (Justin Long) makes his debut and is trapped within the maze of tunnels beneath the home -- that we get a flashback to the house back in the 1980s. It’s there that we see the neighborhood before it was burned down and abandoned. The man that had been residing in the house before -- whose name is Frank -- was a serial rapist and abducted women, had children with his victims, and then had children with the children, and so on and so forth -- which resulted in the creation of The Mother. 

Frank’s neighbor at one point said that the neighborhood was “going to hell,” and it turns out, it really did with Frank living there. And now Tess and AJ need to find their way out. 

Georgina Campbell in Barbarian

(Image credit: 20th Century)

The Final Girl Makes It Out

With Keith killed within the first half of the film, that just leaves Tess -- the poor unfortunate soul who stayed in the house as an Airbnb guest -- and AJ -- the person who rented out the house and was a Hollywood star that was facing sexual assault allegations. Both end up trapped in the tunnels at one point. 

Tess, at first, takes the opportunity to flee when The Mother takes AJ and forces him to feed from her nipple. She is able to make it out with the help of Andre, a homeless man that warns her to leave the neighborhood before dark. But when no one believes that AJ is in trouble, she takes it upon herself to save him. She returns back to the home and grabs the keys to her car, and when The Mother comes across her, she slams her into the house to pin her down. 

Tess then goes in to get AJ and is shot by him by accident after he gains access to a gun from Frank’s room. However, Tess makes it out alive and AJ helps her out. For a moment, it seems they find peace with Andre, but The Mother is still alive and hunts them down. 

The Mother kills Andre and goes after them to the point where they run up a water tower. With nowhere else to go, AJ pushes Tess over the edge of the tower to distract the Mother, sending them seemingly down to their deaths so he can escape.

However, when he goes down to check on Tess, who is miraculously alive. The Mother is also there and she kills AJ for pushing Tess off the building. To be honest, I wasn't sad about it, as AJ was being so selfish.

Justin Long even said in an interview with The A.V. Club that people would be rooting for bad things to happen to his character. And boy, were we. 

My character is so unlikable that whenever bad things happen to me, they’re sort of rooting for bad things to happen to me.

Yeah, I’m quite glad Tess is the only one that made it out too. 

Justin Long in Barbarian.

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

The Mother Is At Peace

A big question that I’m sure many people have about the Barbarian ending is who really is the true villain of this movie? While you could say The Mother, as she killed Keith, she is really just the victim of several decades of incest and she knows nothing better. She was even afraid to enter Frank's room because she knew what he did. 

However, the way that The Mother ends is almost saddening in a way. While the audience is rooting for Tess to live, it’s almost painful to see The Mother so sad to let Tess go because you can tell she actually did care for the girl. Tess was the first one who actually let her baby her. 

Obviously, to Tess, The Mother is terrifying, but she tries to tell The Mother that she can’t go back. And yet, The Mother doesn’t try to attack her after that – it was as if she had made peace with that fact. Instead, she kisses her fingers and presses a kiss to Tess’s forehead with those, saying “bye-bye.” 

It’s then that Tess shoots her in the head, and while Tess makes it out of this alive as the only survivor, a part of you can’t help but feel bad for the creature we just witnessed kill so many people. The real villain of this movie is clearly Frank, for what he had caused and the decades of torture he put so many women and children through - The Mother was just the sad, unfortunate outcome of all of that. 

The bright side of this is that not only did Tess make it out, but The Mother is at peace and no longer trapped in a cruel environment. But if you recall from what Andre said to Tess, there’s “more” in those haunted corridors of that sinful home, saying that The Mother wasn’t even the worst of them. Does that mean there might be a Barbarian 2? Only time will tell. There are some wild internet theories out there already.

Barbarian was a horror-filled fest that was an excellent add-on for the 2022 movie schedule and something that horror fans all around will enjoy, from the incredible performances to the chilling storyline. However, can we all agree that Tess should have just never gone in that tunnel to begin with? Damn. 

Alexandra Ramos
Content Producer

Big nerd and lover of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire. Will forever hate season eight. Superhero and horror geek. And please don't debate me on The Last of Us 2, it was amazing!