Imagine a film that takes the gonzo, blood-soaked vibes of Evil Dead II, the dizzying paranoia of The Blair Witch Project, and the brutality of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and you still won’t be prepared for what awaits in the mortifying and sublime Barbarian. Since its first screening at San Diego Comic-Con in July, Barbarian, directed by Zach Cregger, has become infamous for its “what the fuck” reactions from audiences all over the world.
After a booking error on a stormy night causes a woman to be stranded in an AirBnB with a stranger, the house in which they’re residing begins to reveal disturbing secrets just below the surface. Worse than any haunted house, Tess (Georgina Campbell), Keith (Bill Skarsgård), and the unsuspecting AJ (Justin Long) will have to contend with generations of terror in order to make it out alive.
2022 has been a banner year for horror with films like Nope, The Black Phone, Bodies Bodies Bodies, and holding that banner is filmmaker Zach Cregger, who has ushered in a movie unashamed of its bloody, gross-out influences and what makes horror the best genre in all of cinema. At the expense of sounding (and potentially being) hyperbolic, it will remind you why the “elevated horror” term is such nonsense.
We were lucky enough to join the conversation with Barbarian director Zach Cregger and one of its stars Matthew Patrick Davis, who plays “The Mother.” We talk the film’s horror inspirations tracing back to legend Sam Raimi and the secret Batman-related passion project Cregger hopes to make one day, possibly now under James Gunn’s new DC Films regime.
Exclusive Interview with Zach Cregger & Matthew Patrick Davis for Barbarian. Spoilers follow!
I wanted to say, off the top, Barbarian absolutely rules. What’s it been like for you two seeing the entire internet talking about how insane this film is over the past few months and seeing people discover it in real time?
Zach Cregger: Pretty rad. I’ve loved it. I mean, you don’t dare to hope for an outcome like this when you’re making a really low-budget horror movie. The only metric of success that I would allow myself to really get my hopes up for was that somebody would see it and have enough faith in me that they would let me make another movie.
You know, that was the only sort of metric of success that I could wrap my head around. So the idea that this had a theatrical release and that people have really responded to it, going kind of viral and the big word of mouth, it’s great, man. It’s amazing.
Matthew, is it fun seeing the crazy and frightening reactions from crowds knowing it’s you playing Mama in the film?
Matthew Patrick Davis: Yeah, it’s the most fun to sit in a theater and listen to people literally scream with their mouths open. To hear a group react to your image and stuff. I just sit there and laugh in kind of a strange disbelief. As I’m like, you know, beating Andre to death with his own arm. I’m just like “Yep, I did that!”
Zach, you previously said in a podcast with The Ringer that when you got the call from Roy Lee, your producer, to make the movie, you were playing Demon Souls in your underwear. Which is hilarious and great, but it made me wonder were there any video games or just media in general that served as a bit of a north star for Barbarian?
Zach Cregger: Not video games. No, I think I was much more inspired by Sam Raimi movies and stuff like that.
Matthew Patrick Davis: And Super Mario Bros.
Zach Cregger: Yeah, and Super Mario Brothers. Okay, my bad. My bad. My bad Super Mario too!
I specifically wore my Sam Raimi shirt today because of his influence on the film.
Zach Cregger: Wait, let me put my glasses on. Oh hell yeah. What does it say?
It says “I want for the audience to laugh, jump, scream, grab their girlfriends and feel they really had a great time at the end of that hour and a half.”
Zach Cregger: Dude, that’s exactly my attitude. It’s like what else can you ask for? You know, that’s what we’re doing. We’re not curing cancer. It’s a roller coaster ride! I want people to laugh, scream, and have fun. He’s the best, man. Sam Raimi has three rules of horror, you know what they are? First: the innocent must suffer. Second: the guilty must be punished. And I forget – Oh, the third one is you must taste blood to be a man.
I’m sure you both have seen talk about “elevated horror” and I’m curious about your guys’ feelings on that term and where you would hope that Barbarian lands in that larger conversation?
Zach Cregger: I feel like the term “elevated horror” is for people who don’t know much about horror. It’s for people who see horror as some inferior genre. Like, “I don’t like horror, but I like elevated horror. I like Hereditary and Get Out.” By the way, I worship Hereditary and Get Out. But I also worship Evil Dead II because it’s a fantastic movie. I don’t care where we land on the spectrum of horror versus “elevated horror” because I just think that term is useless.
In that same vein, I think myself and others find it so refreshing to see something truly nasty and gnarly up on the big screen. Did that make it really difficult to sell early on to distributors?
Zach Cregger: It took multiple years to get anybody to sign on to Barbarian. You know, it wasn’t just the nastiness – it was the structure. I think people were very thrown and I understand that, like, if my job and my livelihood were at stake, I wouldn’t want to take a lot of risks. That’s how Hollywood is, risks are bad. That’s business. So a movie like this is not an easy yes. And I don’t think people are stupid for passing on it. But I believed in it. So I’m just glad that somebody finally agreed with me.
A big part of why Barbarian works is at the end of the film the “monster” has to be imbued with a lot of nuance and emotion when you realize “Oh, she’s a victim.”
Matthew Patrick Davis: I was so grateful to Zach for creating a “monster/creature” that isn’t really a creature or a monster really, but a human and a victim – one that you can empathize with. As an actor, I was very grateful to go down dark, disturbing rabbit holes to really empathize with the character as opposed to just being there to go “roar!”
Zach, you recently revealed that you’ve written a passion project that’s an offshoot of Batman, in that universe. So with James Gunn now at the helm of DC who adored Barbarian and who cut his teeth in horror early on, is that something that you would like to still make one day?
Zach Cregger: If I got the call, I would drop everything and go make that movie in a heartbeat. It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever written. I love it, and I’m dying to make it. I have not talked to James Gunn in my whole life. I don’t know him but I would certainly love to meet him and have the conversation. Who knows man?
Matthew Patrick Davis: Slide into those DMs!
Zach Cregger: It just got announced a few days ago so I don’t think that the dust is settled yet, but we’ll see what happens.