Zach Cregger has delivered one of the most twist-filled movies of the year with “Barbarian.” But perhaps the biggest shock to fans is that a member of irreverent sketch group Whitest Kids U’Know switched to horror so effortlessly. For Cregger, the two worlds are not far apart.
“I don’t think horror and comedy are too dissimilar,” Cregger says. “The anatomy of a scare is very similar to the anatomy of a laugh. It’s all about timing and tone and zigging when the audience expects you to zag. I feel like my time in sketch comedy has equipped me to play in this pool.”
Cregger got advice from a friend who had a similar trajectory: Jordan Peele, who went from sketch comedy series “Key & Peele” to directing his breakout feature “Get Out” and two other horror hits.
“He spent a lot of time with me before I went to Bulgaria to shoot the movie,” Cregger says. “He gave me a crash course on how to handle the inevitable challenges, and that was so valuable.” (Peele also watched an early cut and gave feedback for the Sept. 9 release.)
The setup for “Barbarian”: What do you do when you’re stranded at an Airbnb and the house is double-booked with a stranger? A well-paced trailer went viral, as horror fans were teased with haunting imagery that didn’t give away any plot.
“The movie that’s advertised in the trailer is not the movie you’re going to experience in the theater,” Cregger says. “That’s not to say it’s a bait and switch or false advertising, but there’s just no way you could know what’s coming.”
Some of the film’s biggest surprises are pegged to the sly social commentary lurking around the edges.
“I don’t want ‘Barbarian’ to have an agenda, and I’m not trying to make anything preachy,” he says. “I just want people to have fun. But the conversation is there to be had, if they want to have it.”