While James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) is the big filmmaking name on the new superhero/horror hybrid Brightburn — he produced the picture, which was written by his brother Mark and cousin Brian — the person actually behind the camera on the movie is director David Yarovesky. A longtime friend of Gunn’s, Yarovesky cut his teeth on videos, commercials and short films (including the music video “Guardians: Inferno,” which appeared on the home video release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) before making his feature writing and directing debut with the micro-budget horror movie The Hive.
Yarovesky is still working with a relatively modest budget on Brightburn, but that’s part of the movie’s charm: in many ways it’s a bit of a throwback to the sort of mid-level horror sleepers that dominated the late 1970s and 1980s. The movie stars Elizabeth Banks and David Denman as a childless couple who one night discover a baby in the woods behind their farm — a toddler who crashed to Earth in what is clearly a vessel of extra-terrestrial origin.
But all comparisons to a certain other infant who landed in Kansas and became our most enduring superhero soon go out the window: Brandon (played as a 12-year-old by Jackson A. Dunn) has not been sent here by benevolent Kryptonians to protect humanity, but has instead been dispatched to use his powers on our little world in a much more malevolent fashion.
A combination of two of our most popular genres — the comic book origin story and the “evil child” horror tale — Brightburn benefits from Yarovesky’s confident eye, controlled tone and clear delight in parceling out the visceral shocks and gore as needed. We spoke with the young director both on camera (see below) and in a longer conversation at the recent press day for Brightburn in Los Angeles.
Den of Geek: This is kind of like your first big press day situation, right?
David Yarovesky: It’s definitely my first big press day situation. I actually did a junket day in Mexico City a couple days ago, so, I guess that technically was, but this definitely feels different. It’s cool. I like it, because I mean, you know, maybe one day I’ll be jaded and more wise in the process, but for me right now, this is a dream come true, to be releasing this movie. I’m proud of it, and we were so secretive about making it that getting to talk about it feels good.
Is there some anxiety attached to putting it out there and getting feedback in real time, especially since the movie was kept under the radar for a while?
I imagine for some people there is, but I’m pretty in tune with the movie that I made, you know? I know that there are some people out there that will be turned off by how scary the movie is, or you know, people who just don’t like horror movies. You make a horror movie, it’s natural that some people aren’t going to like it. But I made a movie that’s fun to watch with an audience. And at the end of the day, I’m really proud of it. If I hadn’t made this movie, I would have been a fan of this movie.
Some people don’t like horror, but you do.
I do like horror.
Do you remember when and how you developed an affinity for the genre?
When I was young, I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street. I was, I think, five years old and I wouldn’t sleep in a bed until I was eight years old because I thought you get pulled into beds and turned into these fountains of blood, like what happened to Johnny Depp. So I immediately just loved horror and just became obsessed with horror.
What’s funny is that years later I was trying to raise money to make this little short film and I pulled into a parking lot and Wes Craven was in the car next to me and I was like, “Oh my God, it’s Wes Craven.” And I chased him down and I was like, “Oh my God, you made Nightmare on Elm Street, I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but that movie scared the hell out of me. It’s probably why I make movies to this day.” And he was like, “Oh cool, cool, see you later.” And I said, “Hey, I’m raising money for my own thing next door, do you have a chance to stop by?” And he just sort of waved.
So I went and sat on the porch waiting for people because I got there early. I’m sitting there by myself and Wes Craven walks up and sits down next to me. He’s like, “Let’s have a beer.” And I sat with Wes Craven, had a beer and he talked to me about being a horror director, and it was just the most mind-blowing moment for me because he really had this massive influence on my career. And when he left, he shook my hand and there was a couple of hundred bucks in his hand to put towards the movie. I’ll never forget that.
That’s a great story. Any other films that are touchstones for you?
Oh, yeah. In the Mouth of Madness is actually probably my favorite. I really am a big fan of Lovecraftian stuff. I love The Fly. You know, The Shining‘s kind of the obvious go-to thing. I really grew up on the Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson movies like The Evil Dead and Dead Alive. Those were really like driving forces for me. And also they were kind of heroes to me because they were guys who made these crazy horror movies that kind of broke the rules and do crazy stuff. And then they went on to make like the biggest movies in the world, you know. The Lord of the Rings is still to this day my favorite trilogy of all time. That’s sort of my dream, I guess, is to have a career like that.
You had more resources on this than on The Hive.
That’s an understatement (laughs).
You weren’t working with $200 million either, but how did it alter or help your approach to just have more resources?
It was definitely a big step up. When I made The Hive, I had half a million dollars and 17 days and it was insane. Anytime someone makes movies for under a million dollars and it makes sense, they deserve like some kind of giant award because it’s a tough thing to do, you know, and you grind your teeth and you learn a lot. And this was a really great step forward for me because I was suddenly surrounded by incredible people, like James and the people at Trixter, the visual effects company.
What it did for me was it allowed me to just be the director, whereas on previous things that I’ve done, I had to wear a lot of hats because we couldn’t afford any other hats. So this really allowed me to just flex my creative muscle, focus on performances, focus on the story I’m telling, tell it the best way possible. And, yeah, you’re exactly right. This isn’t a $200 million movie. It was a lower budget movie that came with its own challenges but I think being a horror movie helped us because, you know, it was about the anticipation…So we were just very strategic about the moments that we spent money on.
Is James a mentor in some ways?
Yeah. I have a long friendship with James, him and I are incredibly close and there’s always been an aspect of a relationship that’s been kind of mentor-ish. When I met him, I knew who he was. I knew he was the guy who wrote Dawn of the Dead. I had been a fan of that movie. I had been a fan of Slither.
I was friends with him when he made Super, but when he made it, I was like blown away and an instant fan of Super and obviously the Guardians movies. I was a fan of all of those things. And so, you know, he was sort of the guy who I go to and I’d say, “Hey, how do I do this?” Or “I can’t crack this. What do I…?” We like to sit around and talk about movies. We both love movies. You know, he once said something to me, and it really changed my perspective on this town, because I’d go and get meetings and I’d be intimidated by guys in suits and stuff. And he said to me, “There’s plenty of ways to make money out there and no one is here to make money. We’re all here because we just love movies. Some movie out there changed our life and made us want to make movies. That’s why we do what we do.”
As soon as he said that to me, it really reshaped my mind and I was like, “Oh, everyone’s a movie geek like me here. Everyone.” And I found that to just be really true. We just all like sitting around talking about movies.
Before we go, there’s a scene in this movie involving an eyeball and I was wondering if it was a homage to Lucio Fulci?
It crossed my mind that fans of his would appreciate the scene. I think that I just wanted to set the tone that, okay, (Brandon’s) now wearing a mask and a cape and going off and doing bad things and I wanted to set a tone immediately that when he did something bad to you, it was going to be real, real bad, and I thought it was just a really fun way to play with that.
Brightburn is out in theaters now.
Don Kaye is a Los Angeles-based entertainment journalist and associate editor of Den of Geek. Other current and past outlets include Syfy, United Stations Radio Networks, Fandango, MSN, RollingStone.com and many more. Read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @donkaye