Barbarian's Marketing Undersold One Of The Films' Best Performances

This post doesn't contain major spoilers for "Barbarian," but you shouldn't read it until you've seen the movie.

I remember exactly how I felt the first time I looked up the new horror-mystery "Barbarian" and found out that Justin Long was inexplicably part of its cast. If I could distill it down to one word, I'd use elated, but intrigued and unsettled came up as close seconds and thirds. The hilarious actor is known for his interesting choices when it comes to the projects he signs onto — films like "The Wave" and "Comet" come to mind — so his inclusion in the film had me curious from the jump about the kind of terrible rabbit hole this movie was going to force us down (that's a compliment).

One of the most interesting parts about Long's inclusion in the film is the fact that he is almost entirely omitted from the marketing campaign. For a movie that boasts one of his best, if not his best, performances, it initially seems like a bizarre choice — but once you see the film, you realize that keeping him from the general public is an excellent tactic in service of keeping the, frankly, mind-blowing turn of events as secret as possible.

Justin Long and horror-comedies

Zach Cregger's film creates a character that Long is uniquely suited to play — one that drops him into the story about halfway through — and upon my first watch of the movie, I couldn't help but clock that notion from the instant the audience is let in on the kind of person he is inhabiting. His performance really enhances the piece, and brings a whole other level of nuance to what the movie is trying to say to its audience. In fact, imagining the film without the second layer his character brings to the overall story feels incomplete and half-baked. Cregger — who is perhaps best known for his work on "Whitest Kids U Know" — understood the importance of doubling down here, and Long's character works alongside that goal impeccably. Plus, he just kills it in horror films, especially when he's able to bring his comedic sensibilities to the role. In my interview with Cregger for /Film, the director noted that he feels horror and comedy are born of the same impulse, so it stands to reason that he was a particularly great collaborator for Long in this piece as well. 

During my interview with Long for /Film, I noted to him that his character in "Barbarian" — whose name is AJ — is cut from the same cloth as his character Wallace from Kevin Smith's wacky 2014 horror-comedy "Tusk." I asked why he was so drawn to these sorts of, well, total douchebag roles he plays so well. After all, he is the complete opposite of those sorts of characters in real life. His thoughtful response says a lot about why his character is so effective.

'I like exploring the darker stuff'

Long told me:

"I like the idea of exploring darker stuff, because any of those flaws, any kind of narcissistic tendencies, you like to put a lid on or at least temper, or, if you can, completely eliminate through therapy. But with characters like that, it's fun to really lean into the douchier aspects of a toxic male personality. I hope it doesn't come naturally. It doesn't feel like I live with that stuff, but I have narcissistic tendencies and things that I'm not proud of that, with characters like this, I can just kind of lean into and give myself over to. Weirdly, it's fun. It's kind of liberating."

Not only is this role an incredible comic relief throughout the film — much like Wallace is in "Tusk" — but it is also a necessary force within this film's roller coaster of a plot. As the film progresses, you realize just how integral Long's AJ actually is, and by the last few minutes of the movie, it becomes clear that his essence, down to his very core, is pivotal to the final outcome of the story. But you don't know any of that from the trailer and the wider marketing campaign, do you? 

See, sometimes it's better to be surprised.