Barbarian Director Zach Cregger Listens To Death Metal To Fall Asleep [Exclusive Interview]

In the new horror/mystery "Barbarian," nothing is as it seems — and everything seems totally weird, so the fact that it isn't what it seems makes it even weirder and more terrifying than you thought possible. It's altogether strange and unnerving, but writer/director Zach Cregger also delivers a horrific tale that is ripe with moments for laughter, because it really is just so damn bizarre. He's a good person for this kind of mesh, given his background in comedy, and his unique script brings a whole new level of surprise to the genre.

"Barbarian" tells the story of a woman named Tess (Georgina Campbell), who arrives at an Airbnb she rented in Detroit one night only to find that a man named Keith (Bill Skarsgård) is already staying there. Against her better judgment, she decides to stay the night at the home until a solution can be secured — but, as in any good horror movie, she discovers that there is more than meets the eye in this home and that a rogue Airbnb mix-up is, quite literally, the least of her problems.

I sat down with Cregger to discuss the upcoming film in all its mysterious glory, including his reasons for pivoting to horror after previously being part of the comedy collective The Whitest Kids U Know, and what makes horror and comedy such a natural pairing.

'I didn't know where it was going as I was writing it'

One of the things I love about this film is that it's broken up in such a way that it really keeps you guessing. And it's pretty unique to most films, even other mysteries. Where did you come up with such a smart way to keep that intrigue alive? It's a very smart tactic, well-used.

Thank you so much. I didn't know where it was going as I was writing it. So I knew that if I didn't know what was going to happen, there's no way the audience could be ahead of me. I just followed my own intuition and I just decided to surprise myself as much as possible. There's a moment in this movie where everything flips, and that moment was not planned. I hit a wall and I was frustrated and then I just, like, zap, and it happened. A lot of times when you write that way, you can run out of road and you can be in real trouble. This was just one of those really lucky experiences where I think I landed the plane. So I'm really happy with it.

'I just have a dark sensibility'

You definitely landed the plane in a great way. You have a background in comedy, which is really awesome. I know you're a horror guy, that you enjoy horror, but what really made you want to make the jump to horror? It's one thing to love horror and be a fan, but it's another thing to be a horror filmmaker.

I just have a dark sensibility. I love horror movies. I listen to death metal every night to fall asleep in my headphones, next to my beautiful, angelic wife. I naturally gravitate towards darker things. So for me it wasn't like a calculated, "Now I'm going to shift into horror." I didn't mean to write this as a movie. I was just in my garage late at night and I just wanted to write something for me that I would enjoy. So it was a dark scene. Then I just kept following that scene with what happens next.

I mean, this was a movie that was written from a place of pure joy, truly. This was a joyful writing experience and it was a joyful directing experience. So, yeah, as dark as it was, I found it immensely fulfilling.

I love that you say it's joyful. After seeing the movie, it's so funny to hear that. It's just such an interesting outlook. But that's what happens when you're working on a project that you really love.

'Horror and comedy are almost the same muscle group'

Personally, where do you find that horror and comedy best meet? It's a thing that's happening now where a lot of smaller comedy creators are really taking their stab at meshing the two and finding the horror in comedy and the comedy in horror.

Yeah, they're so similar. Horror and comedy are almost the same muscle group. It's all about the precision of timing and tone, and zigging when the audience expects you to zag. It's about subverting expectations. I had a professor in a comedy writing class in college say that all jokes follow the same equation. It's an action with an expected result, yields an unexpected result. I've thought about that a lot in my life of, "Does that really apply to everything that we've ever found funny?" And it does. I've yet to find something funny that negates that equation. That equation is very similar to the one that creates a scare. So not to get too heavy and philosophical about it, but they are the same muscle group. So my time in comedy was not wasted on a horror exercise.

Definitely not. When you talk about it like that, it also seems to mimic the filmmaking process, as well, in a way. What's your favorite scene in this movie?

I'm proud of the whole movie. [A scene] that [jumps] out to me is Justin's measuring sequence. I'm very proud of the turn when we realize what's actually happening. I'm very proud of that. I'm proud of the ending. Because to me, horror movies really always struggle with the ending. So I feel like this movie has a very strong final moment and I'm very proud of that.

"Barbarian" arrives in theaters on September 9, 2022.