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Barbarian and the rise of the Airbnb horror movie

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I am someone who still likes Airbnb. I recently embarked on my first holiday in three years — a two-week European tour — and I booked Airbnbs for three out of four destinations. Unlike many people, who have no shortage of horror stories about their less-than-charming stays at questionable apartments with dubious hosts, I’ve had mostly positive experiences in my years of using Airbnb. And yet, I understand the trepidation that comes with the service. I’ll never forget one of my first Airbnb bookings was an apartment in Florence, Italy, where my sister and I constantly felt watched throughout the night. As if there was someone or, more disturbingly, something surveying us, lurking from the shadows, making us feel uncomfortable. Uninvited.

The once-groundbreaking company is no longer at the height of its powers, but Airbnb remains very much present in the modern vacation landscape. It might not be the go-to choice for travelers looking to have an actual native experience at a given place, but it’s still a solid option for people on a budget or those wanting to experience a more down-to-earth holiday. However, Airbnb has experienced a recent surge in a place few expected to see it: the horror genre.

Horror is thriving in modern cinema. Perhaps now more than ever, the venerable genre is pushing its boundaries, exploring new themes that push it to evolve past its initial conception. Horror is ever-changing, a genre driven by human curiosity. It has long been a way for directors and writers to study the depths of the human psyche, forcing us to face demons we would rather ignore out of fear of what we might discover. It makes sense that it would be an early adapter of social trends other genres would resist exploring, let alone embracing. Horror films in the past decade have examined everything from the accelerated rise of technology to our increased dependency on it. Most interestingly, horror has taken upon itself to comment on how we relate to each other and experience different things in an increasingly hectic world. Thus, the rise of the Airbnb horror film happened.

adaptations of stories by Stephen King, who was on to something) proved how appropriate the hotel business was for the horror genre. However, Airbnb ups the ante and increases the tension. Unlike a hotel, where you’re among other visitors, thus creating a faux sense of belonging, Airbnb alienates you from them and throws you into the local environment. When staying in an Airbnb, you’re the ultimate fish out of water.

In hindsight, it’s surprising that it took so long for the horror genre to embrace Airbnb, considering the company rose to prominence during the early 2010s. Staying in an Airbnb could make you the star of your own Rosemary’s Baby. To some, it might sound like a challenge; to others, it would seem like the ultimate nightmare. However, like the best horror films, it’s a compelling and ultimately irresistible premise.

The Rental – Official Trailer | HD | IFC Films

Entering a stranger’s property means you are in their territory. This might include suspicious rules, elaborate and exclusive codes, forbidden areas, and questionable security measures. Hotels have cameras, but there are limits to where they can be;, while an Airbnb might have other rules, be it the owner’s or even those of previous guests. The 2020 film The Rental toys with this premise, using surprise security cameras to create conflict between the guests and others. Taking advantage of our common perception of Airbnb, The Rental subverts audiences’ expectations about who the real enemy is.

The Airbnb horror poses a question that the genre has long asked its viewers: Why would you willingly put yourself in a position of potential danger? There are security measures in real life that make these lodgings a viable option for tourists, but those boundaries disappear in the horror genre, paving the way for a nightmare where the protagonist bring about their own demise. By exaggerating the hazards of a rental, the Airbnb horror genre poses a crucial question: how many red flags are we willing to accept when in someone else’s home? The answer is, surprisingly, a lot.

Barbarian, one of 2022’s best horror films, understands this fear and uses it in its favor. It not only features one of the most genuinely disturbing villains in modern horror, but also employs its setting and unique characteristics to their fullest. Barbarian knows we fear what we do not know, and what’s scarier than what lurks beneath? Similarly, 2020’s You Should Have Left uses its setting — an isolated rental home — to tell an old-fashioned story about hell on earth. Curses within homes are a favorite narrative for horror films, but the Airbnb home has an extra layer of discomfort; this isn’t your home, and it will never be your home. Nothing is forcing you to stay within those walls but yourself. In a way, you might be the true antagonist of the Airbnb horror.

Houses have histories and secrets lurking beneath every carpet and behind every wall. But who wants to know them all? If the horror genre has taught us anything it’s that nothing good comes out of looking into the dark room from which a conspicuous sound is heard. When it comes to Airbnbs, the less we know, the better. The words “don’t go in there” have never rung more true.

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