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The Untold Truth Of Barbarian

In all the discussion of the horror movie "Barbarian" from writer/director Zach Cregger, there has been a concentrated effort to not spoil all the surprises that this film has to offer. That's understandable since there's lots of fun to be had in watching "Barbarian" start out being about a woman, Tess (Georgina Campbell), discovering somebody else is staying at the Airbnb she's reserved before getting way more twisted from there. Though there's lots of excitement in watching the imaginative narrative swerves unfold, "Barbarian" is still incredibly fun to watch in terms of its pacing, music choices, performances, and so much more. The fact that this feature has so much to offer beyond plot points that would constitute "spoilers" is reflected in the various compelling corners of the film's history.

This untold truth concerns a wide array of details related to "Barbarian," including the various release dates it went through, why Justin Long was so excited to be a part of this cast as an unsavory character, and how Disney ended up releasing a horror movie that was this disturbing, among many other elements. It's no spoiler to say that the untold truth of "Barbarian" will make one even more appreciative of all the craft that went into developing this warped and entertaining slice of horror storytelling.

The sudden announcement of Barbarian's existence

It's hard, and borderline impossible, to keep secrets in the modern version of the film industry. With the ubiquity of the internet and the unyielding presence of 24/7 news media websites, it feels like no movie flies under the radar anymore. But it can still happen, just as it did with "Barbarian." In early June 2022, as part of Disney's announcement of a handful of release date adjustments, the studio revealed that the 20th Century Studios title "Barbarian" would be dropping in theaters on August 12. Aside from confirmation that the feature was directed by Zach Cregger, there was no real information to offer clarity on what "Barbarian" was.

The lack of any pre-existing source material for the feature or even major solo directorial outings for Cregger further shrouded the project in mystery. Part of its mysteriousness was likely incidental and just a byproduct of it being a microbudget horror movie shot primarily in Bulgaria. Those aren't the kind of productions, unlike the sets of an average "Star Wars" or Marvel projects, that attract hordes of paparazzi and on-set photos. Being such a small production meant that "Barbarian" could just lay low as a secret project until it was time for its release date to get announced. That may not be the norm for big wide releases in 2022, but then again, "Barbarian" eschews normalcy in many exciting ways.

Barbarian was supposed to go to Hulu

Under the ownership of Disney, 20th Century Studios (formerly known as 20th Century Fox) has significantly changed how it releases movies. Whereas in the past Fox would release tons of titles into movie theaters in a single year, now, 20th Century Studios delivers the vast majority of its annual movies to Hulu (which is largely owned by Disney). While a handful of titles from 20th Century Studios still go to the big screen, most of its movies, such as "Vacation Friends" or "The Princess," are now exclusively released to Hulu.

In reporting on its opening weekend box office figures, Deadline revealed that "Barbarian" was once set to be another 20th Century Studio title that bowed on Hulu. However, Mouse House brass decided to change their mind when they began showing the film in test screenings and got back incredibly strong numbers from audience members. People were quite positive about the feature and this gave Disney renewed confidence that "Barbarian" could stand out and even thrive in the theatrical marketplace. With that, the plans for "Barbarian" going to Hulu were dashed. Instead, it followed the conventional theatrical release path that used to be the norm for 20th Century Studios titles.

Why Disney distributed a movie like Barbarian

Disney as a company doesn't just distribute "Frozen" installments or Marvel movies. Thanks to subdivisions like Touchstone Pictures or even a brief distribution deal with DreamWorks Pictures, Disney has released tons of adult-skewing movies over the years that one wouldn't normally associate with the Mouse House. Projects ranging from Michael Mann's "The Insider" to "The Proposal" all exist in the vast Disney library right next to your favorite Pixar and "Star Wars" movies. This truth has only been reinforced by the studio purchasing 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight in 2019, both of which gave this conglomerate even more adult films in its library.

Even considering this, it may still be surprising that the Disney of 2022 that's so heavily focused on "Avatar" and Marvel Cinematic Universe sequels would drop into theaters a movie as unabashedly dark and disturbing as "Barbarian." However, per director Zach Cregger, the movie ended up at Disney almost by accident. One of the last financiers to step up and provide cash to "Barbarian" was New Regency. This company has been partnered up with 20th Century Fox for decades now. Thanks to this union, "Barbarian" was distributed in theaters by Fox and its new parent company, Disney. It may have been the last studio you'd associate with original R-rated horror, but Cregger expressed gratitude for how well Disney had handled the movie's release.

The origins of Barbarian

"Barbarian" is such a strange horror movie full of creative twists and turns that the mind can't help but be fascinated by what story could explain its existence. How did writer/director Zach Cregger come to the point where he penned this screenplay? The fact that the various pieces of "Barbarian" work and fit together so well makes it especially enticing to understand the writing process behind it. However, Cregger never set out to write a movie as intricately-plotted as "Barbarian."

Speaking to Below the Line, Cregger noted that the screenplay for "Barbarian" didn't start with a concrete form, it was just an exercise Cregger did in his garage to amuse himself back in 2018. Cregger proceeded to iron and flesh out the rest of the script from there, sidestepping an outline in favor of coming up with new developments on the fly. Cregger was inspired to be casual in how "Barbarian" developed by a quote from Stephen King that compared writers to archeologists and the stories they write to randomly-discovered bones. Going this route could've been risky and resulted in Cregger just hitting a dead end with no finished script to show for his efforts. Thankfully, being open to this style of writing resulted in the highly creative finished script for "Barbarian."

How in-depth were the sets in Barbarian?

The entire plot of "Barbarian" is predicated on an Airbnb that turns out to have far more terror contained within than either the audience or the characters could ever imagine. Considering how important this domicile is to the plot of "Barbarian," it's no surprise that an extraordinary amount of effort was put into building the sets used to realize this environment. Talking to Below the Line, director Zach Cregger revealed that the "Barbarian" crew didn't just turn to an abandoned house in a shabby neighborhood to shoot this movie in. Instead, the production design team, led by Rossita Bakeva, constructed every level of the central house as well as its surrounding neighborhood.

Interior environments like the Airbnb's living room and bedroom were all constructed and then filmed on soundstages, which gave Cregger and other members of the crew total control over these places. Putting together all these sets wasn't without its friction. Cregger recalled how, because the production design team was Bulgarian, there were occasional problems with getting over a language barrier while much of their pre-filming communication was just over Zoom calls. Still, Cregger was incredibly pleased with how the wide assortment of "Barbarian" sets turned out, and they proved crucial in making this movie's world seem believable.

Justin Long enjoyed playing someone different in Barbarian

In his career as an actor, Justin Long has often inhabited comedic roles that make him an everyman audiences can immediately identify with. Whether it's "Accepted" or "Live Free or Die Hard," Long is a reliable figure to turn to as a non-threatening presence that can immediately win the audience over. For "Barbarian," though, Long plays a much darker and foreboding character. Here, he is portraying AJ Gilbride, a sitcom actor who is accused of assault by a fellow performer. It's a scummy character, one that serves as a far cry from the kind of person Long played in something like "Going the Distance."

Talking to GQ, Long noted that he was as surprised as anyone when he first got the offer to play AJ in "Barbarian." He was so convinced that something had gone haywire that he even inquired if he had gotten the character that should've been offered to fellow "Barbarian" actor Bill Skarsgard, a veteran of horror movie villains thanks to projects like "It." But there was no mix-up here, writer/director Zach Cregger wanted Long to step outside his wheelhouse and play a villainous character. Long relished the chance to expand beyond what he usually played, especially since he felt so confident and assured working under the direction of Cregger. Long may be known for playing amiable goofballs, but "Barbarian" gave him the chance to prove he could so much more than that.

Why Georgina Campbell signed onto Barbarian

In an interview with IndieWire, "Barbarian" lead Georgina Campbell noted that she had a wide mixture of feelings upon first reading the script for this horror film. The strange tone of "Barbarian" was difficult to fully grasp at first, but once Campbell got onto its wavelength, she began to see the potential within. Of course, the innate strangeness of this movie was more apparent than ever when Campbell tried in vain to explain the script to her boyfriend over a phone call — an endeavor that went comically awry.

Even though Campbell sounded like she had lost her mind recounting the plot of "Barbarian," she was still intrigued by the plot that this feature offered up. However, that initially wasn't the entire reason she signed on to act in this motion picture. Campbell's boyfriend did help cinch her involvement in "Barbarian" once he found out who wrote the script. While Campbell wasn't familiar with anything else Zach Cregger had made, her boyfriend was and, knowing Cregger's track record, insisted that she take on the part. Combining that with her own initial interest in the story's unabashed weirdness guaranteed that Georgina Campbell was going along for this incredibly strange ride in "Barbarian."

How Georgina Campbell saw Barbarian subverting Final Girl tropes

The final girl is a common staple of so many horror films, especially slasher movies. The concept reflects how many horror movies eventually boil down to a climax where the last survivor is a woman who has to face down whatever evil has been stalking and killing the rest of the story's characters. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in "Halloween" is a perfect example of this trope, while Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) in "Scream" is another fitting instance of this phenomenon. "Barbarian" protagonist Tess Marshall (Georgina Campbell) eventually becomes another iteration of this horror narrative staple, though Campbell firmly believes that her character is a bit of a subversion of audience expectations for what final girls are like.

Talking to IndieWire, Campbell observed and appreciated how Zach Cregger's screenplay avoided painting Tess as just somebody who needed to be saved as well as the characters defining trait of empathy. Throughout "Barbarian," no matter how harrowing things get, Tess remains vigilantly concerned about other people and is willing to put herself in danger to save others. Because of this quality, Campbell firmly believed that Tess had more of an active personality and role in her own narrative than many classic final girls. Leave it to a movie as unwaveringly peculiar as "Barbarian" to also find a way to inject uniqueness into the final girl archetype.

The Comic-Con premiere of Barbarian

A little over a month before general audiences would get to see it in theaters, attendees of the 2022 edition of San Diego International Comic-Con were treated to the world premiere of "Barbarian." It was a sizeable risk bringing the movie to this event. After all, SDCC is where big pop culture properties like "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" or the Marvel Cinematic Universe properties show off their wares and get people excited for upcoming projects. Could something original like "Barbarian" manage to stand out in this crowded field? If done wrong, this entire event could've been a footnote compared to the buzz generated from much bigger panels.

However, "Barbarian" managed to be the talk of the convention after its premiere, with people buzzing about its freakiness and unexpected twists. While everyone was keeping a tight lip over what the movie was about out of fear of spoiling all the fun, there was a consensus that this was a film to watch out for. The original nature of "Barbarian" suddenly looked less like a drawback and more like a secret weapon. Unlike with a new Marvel film, people went into this screening with no expectations of what "Barbarian" was going to be. After this world premiere screening, though, a reputation began to form around "Barbarian" that suggested this wasn't a movie to miss.

Jordan Peele's advice for Barbarian

It's always a good idea to let your guard down and open yourself up to advice from other people. This is true in any context, but it's especially true for artists. A new perspective from a fresh pair of eyes can help you get a clearer view of an artistic endeavor you may have become too cozy with to see objectively. "Barbarian" director Zach Cregger adhered to this advice before he went off to shoot this movie in Bulgaria by taking some solid advice from horror maestro Jordan Peele.

Talking to Variety, Cregger fondly recalled how Peele helped prepare him for all the inevitable obstacles that come up when directing a movie. It was especially great for Cregger to get advice from Peele since both men were artists who got started in sketch comedy before transitioning into making horror fare. Peele's influence on "Barbarian" wasn't even limited to the pre-production phase of the movie's existence. Cregger further noted that Peele watched an early cut of "Barbarian" and delivered notes to the director on how it could be further improved. It's always a wise idea to take sound advice, but that's especially the case when the advice comes from someone as acclaimed as Jordan Peele.

The release date adjustments for Barbarian

When it was first announced on Disney's release schedule, "Barbarian" had an August 12, 2022 release date. This would've put "Barbarian" in a mid-August spot that has been kind to horror movies in the past. However, shortly afterward, Disney/20th Century Studios tweaked those release date plans by pushing it to the Wednesday before Labor Day weekend. Going this route once again put "Barbarian" in territory that past horror films had excelled in. "Barbarian" star Justin Long had even anchored the first "Jeepers Creepers" over Labor Day weekend back in 2002. The box office success of that film and other horror movies that bowed in this timeframe, like the 2007 "Halloween" remake, suggested "Barbarian" had found a perfect launchpad.

But the release date adjustments for "Barbarian" were not finished yet. The film eventually settled on a September 9, 2022 date. The financial viability of this post-Labor Day weekend frame had been forever changed by "It" in 2017, which opened to over $123 million over this weekend. "The Nun" and "It: Chapter Two" also excelled financially over this frame in 2018 and 2019, respectively, proving that this Stephen King adaptation was no box office fluke. Disney/20th Century Studios saw an opportunity for "Barbarian" to flourish in this timeframe, especially when a "Salem's Lot" remake was postponed from this slot. It took a long time for "Barbarian" to settle on a release date, but the one it eventually settled on was rife with potential.

The box office victories of Barbarian

"Barbarian" was that rare thing in the modern theatrical landscape, a total box office wildcard. Without any major prior directorial efforts from its filmmaker or a slew of predecessors to base box office projections on, it was anyone's guess where the film would land financially. Adding a further dash of chaos to the pile was that "Barbarian" was a 20th Century Studios movie distributed by Disney. The House of Mouse may usually score financially with live-action remakes of classic cartoons, but the studio had a much more erratic box office track record when it came to releasing 20th Century Studios titles.

Despite having lots of uncertainty and potential obstacles lingering over its theatrical release, "Barbarian" ended up excelling on opening weekend. Its first three days in North American theaters grossed $10.5 million, a noticeable improvement over the opening weekends of other 2022 horror fare like "The Invitation." Even better, "Barbarian" was already set for long-term profit since it cost a minuscule $4 million to produce. With this bow, "Barbarian" cemented itself as a hit and a prominent example of how original movies can still go the distance at the box office in 2022 (and left room open for a potential sequel, too).