Barbarian’s Director Shares The Inspiration Behind The Movie’s Super Creepy Creature

All the SPOILERS are ahead for Barbarian. You’ve been warned. 

Talk about a jump scare! My heart has never dropped in terror as much as it did when poor Bill Skarsgård’s Keith was thrashed against the wall by the monster in Barbarian. And don’t even get me started on the gruesome cringe moment when Justin Long’s AJ gets force breastfed by her. Who would think up such a creepy creature? Well, it was writer/director Zach Cregger’s doing, and he told us all about its origins.

During CinemaBlend’s Barbarian interviews, the horror filmmaker shared his inspiration for the creature that still surely haunts many of our dreams. In his words: 

It was pretty much that [character design] from the moment I wrote her into the movie, I kind of knew what she was gonna look like. It was this image I've always had since I was a little kid and I read this illustrated Beowulf book, and it has this drawing of Grendel's mother and it looks just like that. And, I found that drawing online and I gave it to the financers. I was like, ‘It's gonna look like this!’ And I gave it to the creature designers… And that's, that's what we made. So I just lifted from this story book, I made changes here and there, but that was the inspiration.

That’s right, Zach Cregger was influenced by the super old English epic, Beowulf, specifically the illustrated edition. He showed a picture of Grendel, who is one of the book’s antagonists and described as a “creature of darkness, exiled from happiness and accursed of God, the destroyer and devourer of our human kind." 

However, having seen the Barbarian ending, the creature is not the villain of the movie, but rather the spawn of its real villain’s horrible crimes against women over the years. The creature is formally named “The Mother” and played by Matthew Patrick Davis, who wore a suit to play the unsettling creature. 

When Barbarian hit theaters a few weeks ago, its terrifying concept led it to win its first weekend at the box office and earn praise from audiences. Ahead of releasing the successful horror movie, Zach Cregger also shared with CinemaBlend that he made a key change to the movie thanks to audience feedback from a test screening

There’s certainly a lot of shock factor to Barbarian between its two beginnings: one where Georgina Campbell and Bill Skarsgård’s characters are placed in the awkward situation of an Airbnb double booking, and another more comedic one where Justin Long’s character falls into the same basement by ridiculously measuring the square footage of the same place, which he owns. 

While The Mother is initially super terrifying, the movie takes us on another journey later in the film when we learn she’s not even the most creepy character in the movie. The man living in the basement who created her alongside Justin Long’s character, who recently raped a woman and ends up trying to kill Georgina Campbell’s character in order to save himself, are much worse than the gruesome creature inspired by Beowulf.

Following Barbarian, there’s a ton of upcoming horror movies heading our way right in time for the fall season. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.