The sharing economy is built on trust. When you rent a home on Airbnb or one of its competitors, you trust that the home is real and looks something like the listing photos, that it will be reasonably clean and livable when you arrive, that the keys will be present, that the access codes will work. You can expect, of course, some minor hiccups, and almost everyone has heard an Airbnb horror story or two, but for the most part you expect that in the end you’ll have access to the residence and have a safe and comfortable place to sleep.
What you absolutely don’t expect is to show up and find your house already occupied by a stranger who claims to have rented the same accommodation through a competing service. In an age of rental management intermediaries and absentee landlords, it’s a pretty plausible snafu, and in earlier Hollywood days it might have produced a romantic comedy. In Barbaric, the clever, twisted, darkly comic and surprisingly effective debut film from filmmaker Zach Cregger, it leads into the ultimate Airbnb horror story. And that’s because Cregger understands that horror movies themselves are built on trust, and Cregger is determined to earn it.
Barbaric spends the first part of the film building that trust with the audience. When Tess Marshall (Georgina Campbell) arrives at her Detroit Airbnb — she’s in town for a job interview — and finds it occupied by a stranger, a mostly modest man named Keith (Bill Skarsgard), she makes no obviously rash decisions. It’s pouring rain, the neighborhood is dodgy, and aside from an over-eagerness to make him a cup of tea, Keith doesn’t seem overtly threatening.
Meanwhile, she locks all the doors behind her and makes sure to surreptitiously photograph Keith’s ID card. She is a young woman in a delicate situation with an unknown man; She doesn’t take unnecessary risks. The tension mounts at a brisk pace, and Tess never takes a wrong step unless you’re planning on entering the house to begin with.
Even though Barbaric methodically shatters supposed trust in short-term housing rentals, it bolsters the credibility of its central character and narrative. As a viewer, you come to believe that Tess is smart and competent, and also that Cregger knows what he’s doing with the story.
Still, what Cregger ends up doing is definitely not what you expected. Barbaric offers a rare viewing experience: it’s a film that truly keeps viewers guessing where it all happens and who ends up paying. More than halfway through the movie, I still had no idea where it was going. Still, it was clear that Cregger wasn’t just piloting it. It was a story with a plan.
My strong recommendation is to avoid spoilers at all costs before seeing this movie, which makes a number of narrative leaps beyond the twists and turns the setup might lead you to expect. But without giving too much away, I will say that Cregger is interested in offering more than just a bad night in a creepy house rental.
Rather, he is interested in interrogating the system of assumptions – the system of trust – that not only makes parts of the sharing economy possible, but enables all sorts of seemingly ordinary human interactions, especially between men and women. women.
After all, when you stay in a sharing economy rental home, you often have a lot don’t know the property, its history, the district, and even, given the role of the management companies, the property. And when you interact with someone, whether it’s a stranger or someone you work with, there’s often a lot about them that you don’t know.
If there is any relief to be found, it is outside the theatre. In the real world, the trust systems on which Airbnb-like sharing platforms are built generally work quite well. That’s why we walk into Ubers and book vacation homes without thinking too much about it, and don’t automatically assume strangers are violent threats.
Barbaric, instead, takes that easy social and economic trust and exploits it with terrifying efficiency. It’s nightmarish fuel for the sharing economy. Next time book a hotel.
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