[Article] BARBARIAN – From Conception to Screen

[Article] BARBARIAN - From Conception to Screen
BARBARIAN l 20th Century Studios
In the new horror film BARBARIAN, a young woman (Georgina Campbell, “Black Mirror”) traveling to Detroit for a job interview books a rental home. But when she arrives late at night, she discovers that the house is double booked, and a strange man (Bill Skarsgård, IT Chapter 1 & 2) is already staying there. Against her better judgment, she decides to spend the evening but soon discovers that there’s a lot more to fear than just an unexpected house guest.

Recently, Nightmarish Conjurings took part in the global press conference for BARBARIAN. Moderating the discussion was Trevor Shand of the Bloody Disgusting Boo Crew podcast and TV show. Joining the conference were actors Justin Long (“AJ”) and Georgina Campbell (“Tess”) as well as writer/director Zach Cregger.

Comedy and horror have a tendency to go hand in hand. All one needs to do is look at such films as Evil Dead, Cabin in the Woods, Shaun of the Dead, and more. With his feature film BARBARIAN, Zach Cregger seemed to seamlessly pivot from his work in sketch comedy to position himself within the world of horror, while still maintaining that comedic element. When discussing how this unhinged tale of terror came to be and the process of getting it made, Cregger stated:

“I had read a book called ‘The Gift of Fear’ by security consultant Gavin de Becker. There was a chapter in the book that was really primarily directed towards women and he was encouraging women to pay attention to these little minor red flags that men can give off in day-to-day situations. They can be very innocuous things that you might not notice. Things like complimenting you when it’s not necessarily appropriate or doing you a favor that you didn’t ask for or touching you in a non-sexual way that’s not initiated by you. All these little things that seemingly don’t matter. But with the gift of fear, it’s important to pay attention to these little red flags because then you’re equipped with that [knowledge] to identify potential threats.

As I was reading it, I just kind of had this epiphany. I don’t ever have to think about that kind of thing because I’m a man and because I have this level of privilege where I just don’t have to consider that half the population might be somebody that means to do me harm for no reason. I occupy a completely different psychic landscape than most women do. It was kind of a big moment for me.

[Ultimately], I just wanted to write. I didn’t want to write a movie, I just wanted to write a scene where I could load as many of those little tiny red flags into an interaction as possible. It was an exercise for me to do late at night in my garage. [The story] was always a double-booked Airbnb and then I made this guy who’s really nice but then gave him a ton of these little triggers. It was really fun and that was the impetus. I just let myself follow my nose and I didn’t think about where it was going to go ever. My rule was if I’m surprising myself, then I have to be surprising the audience. As long as I have no long plan, then no one could know what’s coming so let’s just see how it goes. And this is the movie that came out of it.”

[Article] BARBARIAN - From Conception to Screen
Bill Skarsgård as Keith l 20th Century Studios.
With a story in hand, Cregger’s next move was to get BARBARIAN financed. Not an easy feat for a first-time director pitching a bizarre and unconventional horror flick. In talking about getting the team together for the film, Cregger explained:

“It’s a weird movie. This is not a script that follows conventional story beats at all. The structure is strange and so nobody wanted it for a long time. I sent this script to everyone I knew in town. I knocked on every door and I got no’s across the board. I had a lot of close calls with some exciting people but I think everyone got cold feet and pulled out. But then I got it over to the BoulderLight guys and they were excited. These are two young dudes in their twenties and I had thought, ‘Okay, nobody wants it. These guys are kind of untested, but they’re down to do it. It’s either I go with them or I sell my house and try and make it on a micro-budget. Let’s see what they can do.’

So then I’m playing a video game in my bed at nine in the morning as one does and I’m depressed as hell. My phone rings from a number I don’t know. I answer and the person goes ‘Hey, it’s Roy Lee.’ I didn’t know who that was but he told me he loved the script and wanted to make it. I told him, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know who you are.’ He’s like, ‘Oh, I made IT, The Departed, The Lego Movie.’ I told him I had been trying to get this script in front of someone like him forever, but that I was in business with the guys at BoulderLight and I couldn’t bail on them. Lee informed me that BoulderLight gave [the script] to him and that he wanted to work with them. It was one of those moments that you wait for the phone to ring and hope it’ll be someone like [Lee] on the other end of the line. I’ll never forget that phone call. It was great. I was walking on a cloud for the rest of the day. It was awesome.”

Georgina Campbell as Tess l 20th Century Studios

As the stars began to finally align, Cregger knew it was of the utmost importance to get the right cast that would understand his vision. When discussing bringing on Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, and Justin Long, Cregger described what it was about these actors that made them right for their respective roles.

“Georgina was… it was weird, man. I just knew I wanted her before I even discovered her. I had this image in my mind and I was like, I just have to find that. And so, I did a lot of looking. I saw her in ‘Black Mirror’ and knew [she] was it. I did more investigations and watched some more of her work and everything I saw just confirmed, confirmed, confirmed. By the time I had finagled my way onto a Zoom with her, I was all in. We had a Zoom and it was great.

I don’t think she said yes on the Zoom call, I think she was a little hesitant. Then I remember getting the call from our casting director that she said yes. She was the first person we attached to the movie and it was like I got the job, you know what I mean? Because I knew that that’s such a huge part of the movie, these three [characters]. She’s the lead in the majority of this thing, and so I knew it was going to be okay. Once she said yes, I knew it was going to be okay. It was a big win.

And then Bill. Oh my god, Bill’s perfect. I didn’t think he was going to say yes because [I am a] first-time director. I thought he was going to Big Time me, but Roy Lee reached out to him personally and vouched for me. I Zoomed with Bill and we had a similar conversation and he pretty much said yes on Zoom.

And then Justin. Initially, I was thinking about his role wrong. I was thinking about some biceps, jawbone, haircut, young, super bro-y kind of guy. I only went out to one person and I’m so glad that they passed. I’m sorry to say this, but I’m so glad that they passed because in the downtime when we were putting other names together of studs, not that [Justin’s] not a complete stud, I just had this realization. I was like, ‘No, I think that it’s such a better character if it’s someone who’s just so lovely and charming and seemingly kind.’ I needed a Tom Hanks angle. I wanted to go with a more gentle energy. And I was like, ‘Who is Tom Hanks? Who do we go to for that?’ And I was like, ‘Justin Long, oh my God. It’s been right there in front of me.’ It was one of those things where I was like, I hope he does this movie. And [when he said yes] I couldn’t believe it. It was one of those things where I called everybody and was like, guess who I got, guess who I got! That was the best.”

BARBARIAN l 20th Century Studios

There’s no doubt that BARBARIAN will terrify its audience. But just underneath the surface, the film touches on some of the real-world fears women have navigating through a patriarchal society. Speaking on what Cregger hopes people will take away from the film he stated:

“I think it might spark some discussion about the title. What is the title referring to? I think there could be a little bit of a debate about that. I think… Look, I just want people to have fun. This is not a movie with an agenda. If people take anything away from it, I hope it’s first and foremost just a really good time. I think it’s pretty scary and I think it’s pretty funny. And that’s the goal.”

BARBARIAN is now out exclusively in theaters. For more on the film, read our spoiler-free review here.

Shannon McGrew
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