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Barbarian and Love in the Villa start as the same movie

As far as movie concepts go, mash-ups involving vacation rentals might be a relatively new subgenre, but it’s apparently one that’s rife with possibilities. Last weekend, I decided to go see the new movie by Zach Cregger: Barbaric. Knowing the film was full of twists and turns and crazy moments, I didn’t give it much thought but the concept was intriguing.


Barbaric follows a young woman named Tess Marshall (George Campbell) who is traveling to Detroit for a job interview. Her life is a bit tenuous right now, having just come out of a toxic relationship. She arrives at the vacation property late at night, it’s pouring rain and she’s frustrated. There is no key in the trunk. The house seems empty, but when she calls the managers, no one answers. Then — a light comes on. A man opens the door. His name is Keith Toshko (Bill Skarsgard).

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‘Barbarian’ has a surprisingly similar concept to ‘Love in the Villa’

Like any reasonable young woman in 2022, she is reasonably panicked. When Keith tells him he rent the house, she is confused. Initially refusing to enter the house, an outside look at the catastrophic weather forces him to enter, but with a healthy dose of caution. Finally, Keith shows her his rent receipt, and she shows him hers. One booked on HomeAway, one booked on Airbnb. Looks like the management company is doing double duty.

Still, Tess is uncomfortable. She wants to go out and look for a hotel, but there’s a conference in town and she’ll have a hard time finding a place. While waiting for the sheets to be cleaned, she sits down to chat with Keith. She’s there for a job interview with a local documentary filmmaker. He happens to know the work of the documentary filmmaker, which is quite rare. The two start talking and soon Tess seems reassured that Keith isn’t actually a murderer but truly a man who got caught up in the same shitty situation as her.

The two bond and chat over a bottle of wine, and they talk about his past relationship, and it feels like a tenuous bond is forming. Keith is nice, and he seems very aware that Tess was initially quite uncomfortable and disturbed by the situation. Even though we know we’re in a horror movie at some point, it’s a nice setup. The two make Tess’s bed and Keith shows her how he puts a duvet cover on a comforter (hint: you’re definitely not ready for her turn) and the two share a moment. But, Keith is a gentleman and even though they’ve just bonded, it’s way too early to start making out and sharing a bed. Keith walks over to the couch and Tess falls asleep on the bed.

I will say that at this point, I had a strong sense of deja vu.

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‘Love in the Villa’ also involves double booking a vacation rental, but the similarities don’t end there.

Because, just before going to the cinema to watch BarbaricI had looked another one home movie. (Yes, my life mostly consists of endless TV and movies.) While doing household chores, I put Love at the Villa, a somewhat cliche romantic comedy film from Netflix. I had finished watching a romantic comedy the night before and it was within the suggested window. I’ve never been one to turn down a romantic comedy, good or bad, so I turned it on.

Love at the Villa follows a teacher named Julie Hutton (Kat Graham). She was in love with Shakespeare and more particularly Romeo and Juliet as long as she can remember. A meticulous type A, she has planned her summer vacation in Italy where she will stay in Verona with her longtime boyfriend. Except… her boyfriend breaks up with her just before the big trip. Devastated, she still decides to go to Verona.

After a painful flight, the loss of her luggage and a chaotic drive, she arrives at her vacation rental in Verona. The panoramic rental is on the same place as Juliet’s balcony. Now, if you know anything about Verona, Shakespeare, or just basic literary history, you’ll know that Juliet was a fictional person. Juliet’s balcony is not really Juliet Capulet’s balcony. The balcony itself wasn’t even built until the 20th century. But, I digress. The rental has a magnificent view, and it happens that we can see the famous balcony that Julie is so in love with.

But, there is a slight problem. Someone is already living in their rented apartment. His name is Charlie (Tom Hopper). Charlie is a rather cold but handsome Brit who visits Verona for a wine conference. He works in industry and travels around Italy tasting wines. Julie is shocked and immediately suspicious. She takes out her phone and asks him to leave. He shows her his reserve, proving that he has every right to be there, just like her. He booked on HomeAway and she booked on a fictional site that looks like TripAdvisor (I guess they didn’t want to buy the rights for Airbnb). Oh, and there’s no way to find a different place, there’s also a conference in town.

Now, there’s a whole movie of shenanigans and painfully bad writing and acting, but somehow we land exactly where Tess and Keith do in their rental home in Detroit. Julie and Charlie sharing a bottle of wine in the evening, Julie sharing her ex-boyfriend and Charlie falling in love with her.

Horror and romance often coincide in movies

So flash at me in the theater watching Barbaric and you wonder, since when did these vacation rental stories become so popular that two were created within weeks of each other? It was funny to me that such a basic concept could take such divergent paths. One up to a silly madness in Italy with no stakes or consequences, and the other in (literally) a basement in Detroit where there are only stakes and consequences.

The concept of forced closeness in fiction has always inspired stories. People gathered in a space who do not know each other or have bad relations with each other, this inevitably causes sparks and sometimes explosions. But it’s not the first concept used by different genres, and horror and romance actually have a strong connection with each other. Classic gothic horror often implements romance, albeit dark romance, alongside feelings of dread and foreboding. Movies about vampires and witches often mix horror and romance, especially in recent memory. Frankenstein has his wife. Dracula has his wives. Even Brundlefly (Jeff Goldblum) to Ronnie (Geena Davis). Warm bodies showed us that even zombies can yearn to find a connection with someone (other than by eating their brains). And what about Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) marriage and romance with the mysterious Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) in Crimson Peak? The list is lengthened increasingly.

Barbaric and Love at the Villa reminded me how closely these two genres could be linked. Oftentimes, comedy and horror are recognized as bedfellows, and while that’s certainly true, there’s an element of dark romance that has always been drawn to the horrific. Whether it fully dives into the horror genre is another story, but the two have tangoed before and produced stunning results.

All this to say that, had Barbaric decided to take a different path, and maybe lean more into the romance between Keith and Tess, they wouldn’t set a precedent, they would follow the path of some of the greats. Of course, that didn’t happen. And if you saw Barbaric, you know that I only revealed the tip of the iceberg concerning this story which definitely does not follow any rules. Still, one girl can hope that in one universe, Keith and Tess turned around and immediately left that Airbnb and continued on their merry way to a less abandoned part of Detroit. Maybe they even managed to summer in Verona for a vacation later that year – hey, I know a great place they can stay!