What would National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation look like if Clark and his family had to fight a bunch of killer elves? You can get a very, very close approximation in the new movie There’s Something in the Barn. It stars Martin Starr (Freaks and Geeks, Silicon Valley) as a happy-go-lucky father who moves his family to Norway only to find that an actual elf lives in their barn. The elf is cool with the family being there… until they start breaking his rules. Then all hell breaks loose.
The highly enjoyable holiday horror film is available on digital download today and truly does have the spirit of those classic 1980s and 1990s movies we know and love—Gremlins, Christmas Vacation, and more—which is part of what drew Starr to the project. Speaking to io9, Starr spoke about comparisons to that famous Chevy Chase character, finally being the lead in his own movie, playing against type, and holiday traditions. We also discussed his Freaks and Geeks reunion when John Francis Daley co-directed Dungeons and Dragons, and whether he was privy to all the secrets of Spider-Man: No Way Home when his character Mr. Harrington, got to hang with Peter Parker one more time.
Germain Lussier, io9: When I first heard about this movie, I didn’t expect to recognize any of the stars in it, and was delighted to see your name in the cast. How did you end up in a Norweigan holiday horror comedy?
Martin Starr: I worked with the producer previously and he reached out. At the time I couldn’t be a part of it because there was a scheduling conflict. But then with the pandemic and everything that kind of happened, this just opened up later and they had had trouble getting the movie made at the time. And so he reached out again and I had the chance to do it last November.
But I liked the script. I didn’t read the script the first time around because I didn’t want to fall in love with it and not be able to do it because I already knew there were scheduling issues. But yeah, I really like the movie and I feel like they found such a great tone in the edit. The music and everything just feels so ‘90s in a way that I think can make it a little bit easier too. Because obviously, technology has advanced in such a way that you can dump a lot of money into making it look super realistic. But I like the aesthetic of the ‘90s. I mean the majority of the effects are practical but there are a couple of moments where I’m like, “Oh.” It doesn’t quite get to where the standards are these days. But we also didn’t have the budget. This wasn’t like a $100 million movie, you know.
io9: There’s a moment in this movie where you’re on a sled flying down a hill and everything clicked with me. I was like, “This reminds me of Christmas Vacation.” Oh wait. “Is Martin playing Chevy Chase in a new Vacation?”
io9: My question is did you guys discuss how this movie truly has those vibes and how your character, this kind of lovable, bumbling, but ultimately worthwhile guy sort of channels that character, Clark Griswold?
Starr: We didn’t have a discussion about it. I think I just read into that a bit in the script and having the happy-go-lucky bumbling dad feels like such an archetype to me that I think it just naturally [happened.] I mean that was the way the character was written, but we didn’t have a specific discussion about it in any way emulating prior characters. To me, it seemed obvious so I just kind of went with my instincts on the page.
io9: Was there anything in particular in your performance choices that you felt was Vacation-inspired?
Starr: I wouldn’t say specifically Vacation-inspired. But looking at it in retrospect, it’s like, “Oh, that’s totally a vibe that we intentionally or unintentionally gave off.” And I like it. I mean, it’s so fun to be the bumbling idiot. It’s so much more fun than being the sarcastic, snarky asshole [laughs] because you end up feeling like an asshole at the end of every workday when you do that. But with playing a bumbling idiot, you just kind of are happy and it’s like water off a duck’s back.
io9: That’s awesome. And as you mentioned, you’re best known for playing that sarcastic guy and it’s usually in part of an ensemble. But here, finally, you get to be the leading man and I feel like it was long overdue to get that sort of above-the-title credit. How excited were you to finally be like “Yes, I am the guy in this movie.”
Starr: Uh, it isn’t a goal. So you were more excited than I was.
Starr: I just liked the script and I suppose that I am the first credit on the movie, but it wasn’t ever how I looked at it. The movie always felt to me like a story between the elf and the boy. It always felt like that was the connection. That was the driving force in the heart of the movie. So that’s kind of always how it played in my mind anyway. Yeah, but I’m glad you were excited.
io9: I was excited. I’m a fan. I’ve been watching you since back in the day. So, you’re also an executive producer on the movie. Was that kind of an “I helped this get made” title or did you have any creative input beyond your performance and that kind of stuff?
Starr: No, I mean, I came to it pretty late in the game. It was more casting. We had kind of gone through the wringer a little bit and at that time I think just had a lot of scheduling conflicts, and we [were] very lucky to end up with Amrita [Acharia], who’s so good in the movie. We had worked together previously, so that was an easy fit for us and we got really lucky that her schedule did end up working out She’s wildly talented and super fun. [Also] she has Norwegian roots. She was raised there for a good portion of her childhood. She had worked on Dead Snow 2, which is the movie that we had a connection to also through the same producer.
io9: Those are great.
Starr: Yeah, and she was great. It was fun to get to work with her in a more intense, bigger setting.
io9: Yeah. Also, you almost forget how prolific the career of Kiran Shah [who plays the main elf] has been. [Note: Superman, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Aliens, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, etc.]
Starr: So massive.
io9: Yes totally. Did you have anything you wanted to talk to him about as you were working together?
Starr: Yeah, I don’t know that I could tell my favorite stories of his because they’re his to tell, but he’s just been around for so long. I mean, obviously, he’s no spring chicken, but it doesn’t show in the way that he was physical in this movie. You know, he did some stunts that you wouldn’t have expected of someone his age. But he did it with excitement and passion. And he was so wonderful to work with, especially considering that he doesn’t have a single line of dialogue. He brought so much emotion to a character just using guttural noises. And it was really fun to bear witness.
io9: When you make a holiday movie, there’s always this possibility and hope that maybe this becomes a film families or fans will revisit perennially. Is that something you think about when you’re making a movie like this, or can you just not even think about it, sort of like asking if a sequel will happen before a movie comes out?
Starr: Oh, it’d be fun to go back. I love going to Norway anyway. But no, we don’t. I don’t think about it. Hopefully, people enjoy this as much as we enjoyed making it. It just so perfectly has that ‘90s horror movie vibe mixed with Christmas. I mean my wife loves throwing on Christmas music and decorating the tree and I can totally get on board with that. This is like a fun alternative to that, where you’re watching blood splatter while you’re listening to Christmas music. But I love it.
io9: Tell me a little bit about the discussions of balancing that tone. To start, this is a family movie, it’s got that relationship with the son you mentioned, but then, ultimately the third act gets a little wild and crazy. What went into balancing that?
Starr: There were so many discussions kind of figuring out what the tone was. And I think there were enough options in the edit that we left room for it to find itself a little bit. But there were certainly edits of this movie that were like just a kid’s movie. And it felt like it lacked the kind of core of what it needed to be. I think it needs some level of scary for adults for it to really hit. And the adult humor is obviously there. But I think it toes that line of being inviting and available for kids to watch and get scared by, but also a fun scare for adults, too. And the humor, I mean, we had some of the most hilarious Norwegian actors. We were very lucky. And it translates into English well, it turns out.
io9: Speaking of funny, earlier this year when John Francis Daley directed Dungeons & Dragons, you got a little promotional reunion with your fellow geeks from Freaks and Geeks. I want to know how that came to be and what was it like doing that?
Starr: Oh, we have a mutual friend who works at Paramount and she had kind of proposed this idea. And I was like, “Sure, I’m game. I’m game for whatever to help a buddy.” But I had also seen the movie at that point. So I was really proud of John and the work that he did because I thought it turned out so great. It was so funny and such a unique story to tell. It was a tough movie to understand before you went to see it. Just because Dungeons & Dragons, the name, there’s such weight to it. And so I think people have a different impression perhaps of what that means to them. And some are more excited to see what that gets interpreted to in a long-form movie. But I loved it. It didn’t beat you over the head with the theme of Dungeons & Dragons. It could have had a totally different name on the movie and done just as … like I think maybe some people would have found it more inviting, which is crazy to me because I played Dungeons & Dragons growing up and find it fun.
io9: It was also great to see you come back in one scene of Spider-Man: No Way Home to bring that character to a conclusion. Now, you’ve been in a lot of big hit movies, but nothing quite like that. Did you have a sense when you were making it that it was going to be as big as it was? And were you kept in the dark about like all the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield stuff like everyone else was?
Starr: I didn’t know anything. I didn’t meet them or see them. I heard stories when I was there for work in Atlanta, but I really wasn’t kind of privy to what was going on. But it sounded like a whole lot of fun. It’s weird to only go into that for one day. But yeah, that whole series, it was really fun to be a part of that trifecta.
io9: Yeah, it’s so great. Okay, last thing, kind of big picture. This is coming out around the holidays. Everybody has their holiday movies that they revisit. What are some of the holiday movies that you revisit every year, in addition to There’s Something in the Barn or course.
Starr: [Laughs] Yeah, I’m revisiting this. After making it last year we’re revising it this year.
io9: And every year.
Starr: [Laughs] I really do love this movie, so I’m excited for people to get to watch it and it feels like a childhood movie for me. But I don’t have a movie like that necessarily. My wife likes to play the Peanuts Christmas album, and that feels like now a thing that is ingrained in my brain that happens every Christmas. But I have some good friends who watch Lord of the Rings every year around Christmas. And so we’re actually going to do that here this year. And I’m excited for that. I haven’t seen those movies in years, but every Christmas they watch the extended cuts of all three of those movies, which is a good portion of one’s life if you do that every year
io9: Yes, it’s a long day.
Starr: But they’re they are great movies. I’m not going to argue.
There’s Something in the Barn is now out on digital. Read our review here and watch it on all digital formats here.
Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.
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