Zach Cregger didn’t initially plan on writing a full movie. The former Whitest Kids U’Know comedian-turned-filmmaker just wanted to create a scene, as a simple screenwriting exercise, after being inspired by reading Gavin de Becker’s 1997 “survival signals” book The Gift of Fear.
The book “encourages women to pay close attention to these often ignored red flags that men can put out in day-to-day interactions,” Cregger tells us during a virtual press day for Barbarian (watch above), the buzzy new horror film that exercise eventually led him to writing. “Like little subtle things men can do that could be indicative of a predator. Things like doing a woman a favor that she didn’t ask you to do. Injecting a light sexual comment into an otherwise non-sexual conversation. Touch, even if it’s not sexual, when not asked for. There’s a lot of little things that women just constantly have to be tracking.”
So Cregger wrote a scene where he could “ruminate” on a scenario in which a woman faces all of these red flags and more. It’s now the opening scene for Barbarian: A young research assistant (Georgina Campbell) arrives at an AirBnB in a sketchy Detroit neighborhood late at night, only to find the house as been double-booked, with a man (Bill Skarsgård) already staying there.
“I definitely related to some of that,” says Campbell. “[There are] very different ways a woman goes into a situation and feels fear [versus] how a man would.”
It'd be too spoilery to reveal much more than the above, but we can say Justin Long also eventually shows up as the house’s owner — also a moderately famous actor that’s just had his career sunk from allegations that he sexually assaulted a co-star. It’s a film packed with jolting scares, yet the subplot around Long’s character’s “cancellation” adds yet another dimension to the film’s significant commentary on gender dynamics in 2022.
Cregger, who has admitted he originally wanted Zac Efron for the role, realized he needed a prototypical "nice guy” (or at least one known for playing such characters) — a “charming, affable, endearing” Tom Hanks-type — for his disgraced movie star. Efron turned him down, which makes you wonder if there are male performers in Hollywood today who’d be uncomfortable playing a canceled actor given how many of their colleagues have been exposed for sexual misconduct in recent years.
“I don’t care about any of that stuff,” Cregger says. “If somebody was like, ‘I’m friends with somebody who got MeToo’ed and that’s not cool.’ It’s like, ‘I don’t give a f***. Sorry.’”
Long (Dodgeball, F Is For Family) ultimately proved the perfect choice. The actor had no apprehensions about playing a so-called “cancel culture victim" despite the fact that it hits so close to home in his own industry.
“If anything it made me that much more eager to do a part like that,” Long says. “Because I think it’s an important type of character to expose [and] to examine.
“And the way Zach uses the character to tell an important story about men and women is really valuable. So in some ways the more despicable the character is, the better for the story and the overall point that he’s making.”
— Video produced by Kat Vasquez and edited by Luis Saenz
Barbarian opens Friday.
Watch the trailer: