Tired of the hopeful sentimentality of the superhero movie genre, or just looking for something different, scarier, and much, much darker? Brightburn could be your ticket. As a movie that begins and ends with the question “What if Superman, but evil?” Brightburn isn’t a movie for the young or faint-hearted. It takes the concept to the extreme, following a young super-powered boy who gets more and more murderous as he discovers his incredible abilities.
But while “evil Superman” sounds like a great concept for a comic book supervillain, Brightburn director David Yarovesky told GameSpot that his titular protagonist/antagonist is not a supervillain, and certainly not an anti-hero–but simply an evil superhero. The distinction is somewhat fuzzy, but it’s crucial to the movie’s indentity.
“I’ve heard people talk about this as a supervillain story. I’ve heard people talk about this as an antihero story. I’ve heard people talk about it as a superhero story. It seems to be one of those things, you know, ‘Are you looking at a blue dress or a white dress?’ kind of a situation,” the director said. “I would say that it is an evil superhero movie–I like ‘evil superhero.'”
Calling Brandon Breyer, who comes to be known as Brightburn, a supervillain isn’t quite right. But it’s not completely incorrect, either, the director said, “because supervillain has a connotation to it–that he’s the counter to some other power. And it’s also, [a supervillain] feels like, not central–it feels like the B-plot, the supervillain story. You know? This is an evil superhero story.”
Brightburn is, indeed, the central figure of the movie, for better or worse. There’s no counterpoint or foil for Brandon, no scrappy hero to rise up and thwart his evil plans.
“It’s a challenging idea, because you have potentially the most powerful villain in a horror movie that I can wrap my mind around right now,” Yarovesky said. “He’s so powerful–how do you fight that? How do you survive an encounter? And so that was one of the challenges of the movie, was finding clever, creative ways to play cat-and-mouse with him, to build anticipation, to make it scary.”
Brightburn obviously straddles two genres: superhero and horror. “The fun of this movie was always where superhero and horror meet, like, the corner of that street,” Yarovesky said. “So finding ways to take any beat that felt horror and inject superhero into it, and at the same time, finding any moment that felt too just purely superhero, finding ways to tell it in a new way–tell it in a scary way.”
Ultimately that meant leaning more into the horror side of it. “I approached this movie like a horror movie,” he said. “I wanted people to be scared, you know? I wanted to tell a [superhero] origin story, but I wanted to tell it through the lens of horror. To me, it was a horror movie, and I had a clear intention of how I wanted you to feel in the movie.”
A Promise to Fans
Brightburn gets really intense with its gore, including gruesome close-up shots of a car crash victim, an injury involving an eyeball, and much more. Yarovesky said he wasn’t afraid to go there, because he believes he understands who this movie’s audience is.
“I felt like I made a promise to the audience,” he said. “I knew the trailer that we were going to be putting before people. I knew what we were telling people the movie was going to be: We’re telling the definitive superhero horror story. And what that means is, I’m going to show you what it looks like if someone starts using superpowers on us. And it’s horrifying. I felt like I absolutely had to give you the most f***ed up superhero movie you could possibly imagine.”
“I always kept my eye on the prize of, I know what this movie is. I know who my audience is, you know? I’m making this movie for people who think seeing a scary, evil superhero would be cool,” he continued. “16-year-old me, knowing that, would have gotten incredibly excited to hear that that movie was R-rated. And knowing that it was R-rated, it felt like a promise to the audience that we were going to go there. And so we went there.”
Yarovesky said the movie is meant to feel hopeless; it’s a response to the contemporary superhero movie landscape.
“I think that if you look at the sort of more family-friendly, altruistic superhero movies that we’ve all grown up with and that we all love–and that I will still continue to pay money for every time they come out and see every one of them again and again and again–but if you look at those movies, they are full of hope and joy and optimism,” he said. “The evil superhero in this movie is is the counter to that, and is the inverse of that. So I would be failing at my duties of making that evil superhero story if I filled you with hope and optimism.”
Brightburn was produced by MCU heavy hitter James Gunn, and written by Gunn’s brothers Brian and Mark. Yarovesky has also appeared in Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy franchise as one of Yondu’s ravagers (he’s credited as “Goth Ravager,” which Yarovesky said is indeed his character’s official name). The Brightburn director is well aware that the movie is a weird fit for this moment in cinematic history.
“I mean, sure. In one part, it’s hard not to see this movie and think about Avengers and the scale of superheroes these days,” he said. “You know, we’ll all look back at this era in pop culture and see how superheroes infected all aspects of storytelling in so many ways. And this is certainly one of those ways. I grew up loving horror movies and watching horror movies, and I’d watch interviews with the people who created horror movies of the ’80s, and of the ’90s, and even of the ’70s. And so much of those stories were birthed out of that time period and what was happening then to inspire the things that scare them. And there’s no way to look at this movie and not see that it is absolutely inspired by the time, in so many different ways.”
In addition to current superhero movies, the director leveled some criticism at modern horror: “I think that sometimes the era of horror that we’re in right now can feel overly supernatural and soft and without consequence,” he said. “I wanted [Brightburn] to be scary and threatening. When you know he’s coming for you, he’s going to get you, and it’s going to be real bad.
“I think that we fulfilled that promise.”
Brightburn hits theaters Friday, May 24.