‘Brightburn’ Is The Newest Film In the ‘Superhero Horror’ Genre: Here’s What That Means

Jackson A. Dunn in Brightburn
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See 'Brightburn' when it hits cinemas on May 23.

With a glut of superhero movies hitting theatres and streaming services alike, Brightburn stands out from the pack for doing something extremely different. Different being scary.

For comic book readers, the idea of “superhero horror” isn’t an unusual one. In fact, it has become one of the enduring sub-genres of the medium, with characters like Venom having long, rich histories on the page. Even classic characters like Batman, The Flash, Wonder Woman, and Superman have taken a hard left turn into horror at times, with limited runs like Batman and Dracula in the ‘90s and the zombie apocalypse currently sweeping DC Comics at the moment with DCeased.

Heck, when Archie Comics started to feel stale, the publishers made a surprise move and launched Archie Horror. Jughead Jones became a werewolf, Archie was forced to navigate a zombie takeover of Riverdale, Veronica turned into a vampire, and the exploration of teenage witch Sabrina Spellman veered towards the Satanic, which proved so popular it launched its own hit Netflix series, The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina.


Yet examples of superhero horror being successfully done on the big screen are few and far between. It makes sense then that 2019 would be the time to shake things up, with superhero movies now the dominant genre at the box-office. In a world where an animated Spider-Man movie set within a multiverse can win an Academy Award, the idea of exploring the darker side of superhero mythology isn’t so outlandish.

Enter Brightburn, the latest genre outing from producer James Gunn, who has made a name for himself subverting superhero stereotypes directing and writing films like Super, Guardians Of The Galaxy: Vol 1 and Guardians Of The Galaxy: Vol 2. “I love this movie because it is an entirely new take on the superhero genre,” Gunn says of messing with the genre’s expectations. “It is something we have never seen before. It’s coming at the superhero movie from a pure horror angle. It’s also a more honest way of coming at the superhero myth because there’s something terrifying about the idea of a super-powered alien that would come to Earth.”

Set in small-town America, Brightburn follows the story of a couple – played by Elizabeth Banks and David Denman – who adopt a boy that crash lands on Earth from outer space. Sound familiar? It should, as the film adopts many of the same details from Clark Kent’s (AKA Superman) origin story, only to subvert them.

Elizabeth Banks in Brightburn

While the latter might go on to save the world and Metropolis, Brightburn’s gifted alien boy, Brandon Beyer (played by Jackson A Dunn), isn’t so benevolent. As the years go by, his parents attempt to develop his moral compass by encouraging him to use his powers for good. Yet Brandon has other ideas as the evil inside of him begins to grow, eventually spilling out with catastrophic consequences for the local townspeople, innocent bystanders and, of course, his parents.

Of course, a superhero isn’t complete without their costume and Brightburn’s take on the traditional identity-cloaking mask is fittingly creepy: a red, saggy hood and glowing eyes underneath.

Jackson A. Dunn in Brightburn

Directed by The Hive filmmaker David Yarovesky and written by Gunn’s brother Brian Gunn and cousin Mark Gunn, the twisted tale is very much a family affair, with everyone from the Gunns and Yarovesky to stars Banks and Steve Agee having worked together on several projects like Slither, Guardians Of The Galaxy and more, in the past.

“There’s a tradition that goes back to Moses up through contemporary superhero stories about childless parents who take in an infant that they find in the wild,” says Brian Gunn, who exploited those same conventions in the storytelling. “Those figures grow up to be noble and heroic, but we wondered what would happen if it went the other way and this child ends up being something sinister.” In the same way The Dark Knight subverted audience expectations on what a comic book film could be, the Gunn brothers were motivated to do the same with Brightburn.

“They encouraged us to play up the superhero element even more than we had in our original script,” says Mark Gunn, who originally wrote a draft that was more modest and designed to be made on a much smaller budget. “To put superpowers in a horror context seemed really fun to us—it was an opportunity to mix together two different genres that hadn’t really been mixed together before.”

With audiences of superhero and horror movies being some of the most dedicated, it’s rare a film unashamedly combines both of those elements. “We realised that there are many superhero abilities that if you were on the receiving end of them would be terrifying,” adds Brian Gunn. “Flying could appear very ghostly. Laser eyes can be demonic. Super strength can be horrifying. Lots of super abilities, if you turn them just a couple of degrees, become grist for horror.”

Brightburn is at the forefront of what is being considered a new trend of superhero horror, coming off the back of Venom, which made a staggering $855M at the box-office globally. And, with the forthcoming Joker harnessing elements of the horror genre, these types of projects have attracted the likes of Oscar winners Jared Leto (set to star as Spider-Man vampire villain Morbius in 2020) and Jamie Foxx (leading the Spawn reboot from horror producer Jason Blum).

But, unlike the other titles in this burgeoning trend, Brightburn is an original story from the Gunn family and not based on a pre-existing comic book character. What does that mean? An element of unpredictability comes into play, making things just a little bit more difficult to predict – and a hell of a lot scarier.

(Images courtesy of Sony Pictures)

Brightburn hits Australian cinemas on Thursday, May 23.