Over the course of her career, Elizabeth Banks has shared screen time with Spider-Man as well as the gruesome alien parasite of “Slither.” So she’s enough of a veteran of superheroes and horror to know that the mash-up of the two in her new film “Brightburn” is a natural one.
“We give superheroes all this power and the question is, are they going to use it for good or not?” Banks says. “And we’ve made this incredible assumption for years now, because we need and want heroes, that they have something positive to offer humanity. But what if they don’t?”
Elizabeth Banks) stars as loving mom Tori to Jackson A. Dunn's Brandon Breyer in "Brightburn." (Photo: BORIS MARTIN)
That’s the conceit behind “Brightburn” (in theaters Thursday night), directed by David Yarovesky and produced by James Gunn, and the movie takes Superman’s familiar origin to some terrifying places. Banks stars as the loving, protective mom of Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn), a Kansas farm boy from another planet who learns he has extraordinary abilities (super strength, heat vision, flying) when he turns 12. Instead of being a hero, though, his persona veers much more sinister.
Superhero films obviously ring up some serious box office: According to Box Office Mojo, the Avengers and their various pals were responsible for a massive $3.3 billion domestically in 2018. And scare fests didn’t do too shabbily either, with hits like “A Quiet Place” ($188 million), “Halloween” ($159.3 million) and “The Meg” ($145.4 million).
Assorted projects have melded the two popular movie genres over the years, including the “Blade” trilogy, “Spawn,” “Ghost Rider” and most recently “Venom” and the rebooted “Hellboy.” But Yarovesky says the goal of “Brightburn” was to take all of the good-guy story beats that audiences have seen a million times before and make them “scary and unsettling, so that every time you saw them in a future superhero movie, it never felt right again. It never felt safe.”
Brandon is an inspired combination of comic-book character and retro slasher, with his cape and mask repurposed from items around his bedroom.
“It is very DIY. It’s his blankie,” Gunn says of his headgear.
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The DIY costume of Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn) in "Brightburn" is an inspired combination of superhero and horror elements. (Photo: BORIS MARTIN)
That look was “the whole ball game,” says Yarovesky, who dubbed the costume SMIVA (short for “single most important visual aspect”) on the set. “If you looked at it and felt, ‘That’s kind of a superhero but also I’m terrified of it,’ then people would be super into it. And if it looked dumb, we were dead in the water.”
The key for “Brightburn” was approaching Brandon like one would a scary supernatural being in real life, Gunn says.
“If you did have a superhero who moves at the speed of light and shoots beams out of his eyes, that’s a lot of very demonic things,” he says.
One of Yarovesky’s favorite shots is when Brandon is hovering outside his house, his eyes reflecting an angry red color and cape flapping in the wind as he watches his mother. “I had this thought in my head to shoot a superhero like John Carpenter shot Michael Myers, the wide shot where he’s just watching his prey, lurking, emotionless,” Yarovesky says. “Taking those iconic images and infusing superhero DNA into it.”
The filmmaker knows that’s going to mess with audiences’ heads, which is kind of the point.
“Conventional superhero movies are really good at filling you with a sense of hope and joy, and so if we were going to make the anti-inverse, upside-down evil version of that, I couldn’t possibly do it justice and leave you with hope and joy,” Yarovesky says. “Where would the fun be in that?”
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