The Creature In Barbarian Was Inspired By A Classic Literary Monster

Warning: This post will contain spoilers for the film "Barbarian." 

Zach Cregger's 2022 film "Barbarian" is merely the latest in a long, long series of recent "creepy Airbnb" horror movies. This is a whole subgenre now that includes "The Rental," "Superhost," "A Perfect Host," and the upcoming "8 Found Dead." This new subgenre's immediate persistence implies that many members of the film-going public possess an inherent fear of Bed & Breakfasts. It's someone else's home, after all, and they have to track your behavior while staying in their home. It's an alien location with a certain degree of privacy stripped. The anonymity of a hotel room is absent. Airbnb horror movies — Fearbnb? — confirm a renter's worst nightmares. That there is something untoward at play. 

That's certainly at play in "Barbarian," a film about a young woman (Georgina Campbell) who finds herself having to unexpectedly share a remote Detroit Airbnb with a stranger (Bill Skarsgård) as the house was accidentally double-booked. Having to share the space is unnerving enough, but the pair also discover a mysterious hidden door in the house's basement. Behind the door is a small, stark room with nothing but a bloodstained mattress and a video camera in it. And, of course ... another door. The second door ... leads down. Down a pitch-black passage of earthen steps to where cages lie. Cages, and an eight-foot-tall nude woman (Matthew Patrick Davis) with stringy hair, scant teeth, and a nasty temper. 

It won't be until after a smash cut and an undisclosed amount of time passes that the house's owner (Justin Long), a Hollywood star being investigated for sexual misconduct, will bother to investigate the matter. 

Grendel's Mother

The monster, called "The Mother" in the credits, is a powerful, terrifying figure that has clearly been living underground her entire life. The Detroit neighborhood where the central Airbnb is located has long since been abandoned by poverty, so she is known to occasionally trek outdoors at night. She is misshapen, the result of several generations of inbreeding, and she is obsessed with finding captives to serve as her "baby" that she can feed. If one screams, she becomes upset and turns murderous.

In a recent interview with ScreenRant, Cregger revealed that his design for the Mother was inspired rather directly by his experience reading a kids' version of the medieval poem "Beowulf" as a kid. In particular, the book contained an illustration of Grendel's Mother that stuck in his head. 

"There was a drawing in a Beowulf illustrated book I had as a kid, and there's this illustration of Grendel's Mother that really made an impact on me. So, that was what was in my head when I was writing it, and I showed that to the team. Matthew and I talked a lot about physicality, and how the Mother would move, and things like that. Then, when I went over, we put all these prosthetics on Matthew's face, and I had a cast of his face before he even showed up in Bulgaria."

In "Beowulf," Grendel was a three-part story set in 6th century East Anglia wherein the title hero, a Geat, does battle with a monster called Grendel who has been eating the local townsfolks. Later, he returns to Grendel's lair and kills his equally monstrous mother with a sword. At the end of the story, Beowulf slays a dragon.

The monster is too handsome

In Robert Zemeckis' animated film "Beowulf," Grendel's Mother was reimagined as a nude, gold-plated seductress with a living ponytail played by Angelina Jolie. In most editions of the story, Grendel's Mother is described as beastly and is, in some cases, not even quite humanoid. 

The monster, then, was Grendel's Mother. Sadly, there was a complication in his monster design. Cregger was given a note from the studio saying that his actor, Davis, even with monster prosthetics, was still too handsome. It just wasn't scary enough. Cregger says that he needed to scramble to make the Mother's face that much more horrifying. Starting with Grendel's Mother, Cregger went full tilt into the bleak paintings of a famed 20th-century Irish artist. Cregger said:

"It would look like Matthew's face with long hair, and he's a pretty handsome man, and that's not really gonna freak people out. Matthew, you're hot. So, that night, I went home, and I did a ton of research into facial deformities, and I picked this cheek, and that mouth, and this chin, the asymmetry came in. We went back the next day, kind of in a panic, because we were going to start shooting very soon, and we just cranked it up to basically a Francis Bacon level."

"Barbarian" is one of the better-reviewed horror movies of the year. It is currently on HBO max.