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How Beowulf Inspired Barbarian’s Terrifying Mother Design

While many are still shocked by the character, writer/director Zach Cregger shares how Beowulf inspired Barbarianthe terrifying mother design. The surprise horror hit revolves around a trio of characters whose different stories relate to a rented house in a run-down suburb of Detroit, which harbors a dark secret in a series of hidden tunnels in the basement. Georgina Campbell led the cast of Barbarian alongside Justin Long, Bill Skarsgård, Matthew Patrick Davis, Richard Brake and Kurt Braunohler.


While speaking exclusively with screen frenzy before the home media release of the film, Zach Cregger reflected on the development process behind Barbarianthe terrifying mother design. The writer/director explained how Beowulf inspired the horror film antagonist, recalling how he had a drawing of the mother of one of the more iconic characters in the iconic fantasy epic that terrified him as a child. See what Cregger explained below:

There was a drawing in an illustrated book by Beowulf that I had as a child, and there is this illustration of Grendel’s mother that really impressed me. So that was what was on my mind 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. When I went there, we put all these prosthetics on Matthew’s face, and I had a cast of his face before he even showed up in Bulgaria. I had designed some of the prosthetics with a team that was very subtle, they didn’t really look like they did in the movie. One of the studio executives, on the drive home from the lab, from the studio, where we were working on the facial stuff, I could see she was suffering from it, and I thought, “What’s up?” and she said, “I just don’t think it’s very scary. I don’t think that face is very scary.” And I think she was right, it was really very subtle. It would look like Matthew’s face with long hair, and he’s a pretty handsome guy, and that won’t really scare people. Matthew, you’re hot. So that night I went home, and I did a lot of facial deformity research, and I picked on this cheek, and that mouth, and this chin, the asymmetry came in. We went back the next day in a bit of a panic as we were going to start shooting really fast, and we just ramped it up to basically a Francis Bacon level. Then we had what we got, so it was always very clear in my head, and then at 11 I realized I wasn’t right, and so we had to rearrange the deck a bit.

Related: Barbarian’s Detroit Setting Has a Deeper Meaning Than You Realize

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Why the mother is so effective as a horror monster

While the genre has produced some memorable antagonists over the years, some of the best horror movie monsters are effective in their lack of big screen time in their movies. The shark in jaws remains one of the best examples of how to build the suspense and terror of the monster shark until its final reveal in the film’s third act. Subsequent sequels failed to capitalize on this suspense, showing more and more of the sharks at the heart of each film, leading to progressively worse reviews until Universal eventually dropped the franchise altogether.

Since its release, many have discovered that: Barbarian turns out to be an equally effective approach to the horror-monster formula to cover up much of the film’s The Mother. The first act of the film plays out more like a romantic comedy between the characters of Campbell and Skarsgård until the terrifying reveal of The Mother, while the second act is a darkly comic #MeToo story with Long in the middle before he too gets killed. facing the film’s terrifying antagonist. While the film’s final act featured much of The Mother and her backstory, most agreed that she’s a terrifying new horror monster, namely with her unsettling design.

While the film’s ending seemingly closed the book on her story, Cregger has teased the possibility of a prequel Barbarian film that explores more of the backstory for The Mother. Since her exact parentage is generally kept a secret, it might be interesting to see another character-jumping story delving into the motives behind Brake’s Frank and how The Mother eventually overpowered her captor. Meanwhile, the public can catch up Barbarian streaming now on HBO Max.

Next: What happened to Frank’s other victims in Barbarian?



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