By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Rising filmmaker David Yarovesky was one of those kids who was considered an oddball, an outsider when he was growing up. He had dyed jet black hair. He wore Freddy Krueger t-shirts. He wrote creepy horror stories in English class. Sometimes, his mom would have to meet with his teachers to assure them he was just a little creative, not dangerous.
“She’d tell them, ‘He’s just weird and creative, but he’s good. He wants to make scary movies someday,’” he recalls his mom saying.
Of course, his mom was right. Yarovesky has become a filmmaker, working alongside the likes of James Gunn (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) as well as making his own films (“The Hive”). His latest is “Brightburn,” a horror spin on the superhero genre. What if Superman arrived on Earth but his superpowers were used for evil, not good?
In this origins story, a childless couple “adopt” a baby they discover in the woods adjacent to their rural Kansas farm. They raise the boy, whom they name Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn, who played young Scott Lang a.k.a. Ant-Man in “Avengers: Endgame”), as their own. Aside from never getting hurt, Brandon’s a pretty normal kid. But as soon the super smart kid hits puberty, he begins changing. He begins hearing voices emanating from a barn, which he is not allowed to enter. Something is locked away there and, in a trance, he tries to break the lock to reach whatever it is that’s calling out to him and manipulating his mind. His parents, especially his mother, Tori (Elizabeth Banks, “Pitch Perfect” movies), try to keep him from what’s hidden in the barn. But as Brandon’s powers begin to emerge—he can fly, shoot laser-like beams from his eyes and has super-strength—he becomes too much for his parents to handle. Soon, Brandon is wreaking havoc in his small town of Brightburn, but the authorities (school, law enforcement and his family) don’t understand what they’re dealing with.
Yarovesky directs the R-rated film based on a screenplay by Brian and Mark Gunn. (Brian is James Gunn’s brother; Mark is his cousin). He spoke about making the film and how his own relationship with his mom influenced the mother-son dynamic of “Brightburn.”
Q: It was nice for James Gunn (who’s in production on “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3”) to come out and introduce “Brightburn” with you at the screening last night.
Yarovesky: Wasn’t it? He’s been an incredibly supportive force in my life.
Q: So, is there anything scarier than a 12-year-old boy?
Yarovesky: (He laughs.) One that can fly and shoot lasers out of his eyes.
Q: How did you get involved with this and the Gunns?
Yarovesky: I was at James’ house for a barbecue and Brian and Mark were there. They started telling me about this movie they were writing and I got mad at them and said, “I have to make this movie. I, literally, have to make this movie.” They sent me the script and I went crazy for it. I came back to them and said, “Listen, if you let me take your baby, here’s what I want to do with it. I want to go all-in with the horror. I want it to be scary.” They thought that was cool and James (Gunn) thought that was cool. James and I have been looking to make a movie together for a long time and I just knew that this was going to be it. James loved it, and we all got in the room and began figuring out what the movie we were going to shoot is. It was like a family coming together and making something together.
Q: You relentlessly deliver the scares in this film.
Yarovesky: I made a promise to the audience in the trailer that I was going to take superhero stories and merge them with horror, and turn it into this crazy thing. I wanted to scare people about superheroes in the same way that “It” scared people about clowns. I wanted to change people’s perception of superheroes.
Q: What struck you about Elizabeth Banks to play the central female heroine character?
Yarovesky: I’ve always been a big fan and admirer of hers. When I read the first draft of the script, I could only imagine her in the role. She took it over in my mind, so as I’m reading (the script) I’m imagining her doing this and saying that. I’m so fortunate that she ended up being excited about the script and coming on board. I felt like it had to be her. I knew she had a relationship with James from “Slither.” I knew she loved movies like this. I just had a weird kind of confidence that it would work out and she’d want to do the movie. I was proved right, I guess. I was a big fan of hers coming onto this movie, and I’m an even bigger fan now.
Q: How challenging was it to find an actor who could convincingly play Brandon in this film?
Yarovesky: The casting office sent us over 200 tapes, and the first tape we watched was Jackson. We all went crazy and agreed that he should be our star. He was so into the movie and so excited about the movie. He did such a great job. I’m so excited for his career because I think this is going to be great for him. People are going to react to his performance. He’s terrifying in the movie. I look forward to the day when he goes to the mall, and someone runs screaming from him.
He reminds me of someone who might have been cast in an Amblin (Steven Spielberg’s production company) back in the ‘80s. He could have been in “Stand by Me” or “E.T.” or “The Goonies.” He has that classic movie star thing. For him to do that, and then to go so dark and so evil, and become a monster in the way that he does, it’s awesome.
Q: You captured the nature of 12-year-old boys so accurately, just in terms of the way they typically deal with adults.
Yarovesky: Thank you. I seem to still remember what it felt like to be that age. This movie is really, at the core, about my relationship with my mom, so I had a lot to draw from. When I read the script and there’s all this stuff with her talking about how special (her son) is, that was my mom. When I went to school, I wore Freddy Krueger shirts and dyed my hair black and kids were scared of me. I’d write little horror stories in my English class and people would freak out about what I was writing. She really had to defend me so that (mother-son relationship) was the emotional core of the movie for me. I kind of took this as an opportunity to make this as a thank-you note to my mom because without that kind of support, I might not be here right now.
Q: Do you have kids?
Yarovesky: No. I just got married days after shooting this movie. I married the costume designer (Autumn Steed). We’ve been together for 10 years. We’ve worked together on other projects and I was very excited to work with her on this. I’m very proud of her. So, we finally got married at the end of shooting this.
Q: How do you think this film might affect youngsters who might consider themselves or be regarded by their peers as outsiders?
Yarovesky: I was different. I was that person. Everyone has different relationships with superhero stories. I wasn’t trying to make a statement about anything like that. What I was trying to do was make a statement about adopting literal alien children. If an alien in a spaceship lands in your forest or in your farm, don’t adopt it. It’s not here to help us. That is what I was trying to say.
Q: Was the classroom scene where the teacher is talking about bees and wasps a nod to your “The Hive” movie?
Yarovesky: No, it was not intentional but when it happened, it felt like a weird Easter egg for my movie. There’s a lot of little fun Easter eggs to find in the movie. That has definitely become one of them.
Q: What type of movie is this? A superhero movie? A sci-fi movie? A horror movie?
Yarovesky: What this is, really, at its core, is me taking all of my favorite things from superhero movies and all of my favorite things from horror movies and creating this mash-up in a fun, weird way. If I had to categorize this movie into more conventional standards, it’s a horror movie. All we’ve done here is tell the tale of superhero/origin tropes, but we’re telling it through the lens of a horror story. Instead of telling it from the perspective of the people who are being saved, we’re telling it from the perspective of the people who are running for their lives … and screaming. That makes it a horror movie. And hopefully, you, as the audience, are terrified for them.
Q: In the Michael Rooker scene during the end credits, he mentions different names of what sound like superheroes. Are you setting this up for a sequel?
Yarovesky: The fun thing about “Brightburn” is that when we started working on this, we kept it completely quiet. We introduced it in a very specific, careful way by showing it and not telling (anyone) about it. We showed the vision of it in a trailer and people really connected to it and got it. So, I would say if we’re ever so lucky to expand the “Brightburn” universe, we would probably shut up about it and just let the trailer speak for itself.
Q: Do you have your next film project lined up?
Yarovesky: I’m certainly working on some things. I’m a big fan of secrecy and surprising people. I like to show the trailer and not talk too much.