In Columbia Pictures’ superhero horror film Brightburn: Son of Evil, a child from another world crash-lands on Earth, but instead of becoming a hero to mankind, he proved to be something far more sinister.

Growing up on the Kansas farm, Brandon is a bright boy who doesn’t necessarily makes friends easily, but like many only children, he enjoys time with adults—not only his parents, but also his aunt and uncle.

When he reaches his 12th birthday, however, Brandon begins to change. He becomes moody, rude, disrespectful, an attitude that doesn’t sit well with his more traditional father. At first, his parents chalk the trouble up to puberty. But his mother increasingly fears there’s something else, something menacing, taking hold of her darling boy. She fights her maternal instincts, refusing to believe the signs that are right in front of her—until it’s much too late.

Pivotal to the success of the film was finding the right actor to play Brandon. He had to be believable as a teen who begins the story as basically a good kid before harnessing his extraordinary gifts to terrible ends. Surprisingly, the search didn’t take long. Jackson A. Dunn was the first to audition. “He was impossible to top,” says producer Simon Hatt.

Although barely a teenager himself when he landed the role, Dunn projected the necessary range for the disturbed Brandon. “He’s got a great sensibility,” says Elizabeth Banks, who plays his mom. “He’s great for this part. He’s a perfect Brandon. He’s got just enough charm in him that you really fall in love with him, and then he can be cold and evil at the same time.”

The young actor was excited by the challenges at playing an academically gifted teen who realizes he possesses other, more deadly gifts as well. “At the beginning of the movie, he is completely normal,” says Dunn. “He loves his family. He probably feels self-conscious that he’s not able to bond with the other kids his age, but he’s at a mental level where he understands that he prefers to converse with his family and adults. I get to experience the changes that he goes through throughout the movie and how different he is from the start to the end. It’s weird, because some of it is stuff that I can pull from real-life experience. And then, some of it is killing people.”

As Brandon becomes increasingly confident in his powers, unleashing the full force of his fury on his family members and the residents of his sleepy Kansas hometown, BRIGHTBURN: SON OF EVIL moves toward a punishing conclusion that sees Tori finally confront the terrible truth about her beloved son. “He’s compelled by his nature to do something truly awful,” producer James Gunn says.

Yet Gunn is quick to point out, too, that it’s still possible to feel a connection to Brandon—he is recognizable as the boy-next-door gone wrong, or something even closer to the darkest corners of own selves. “Even Brandon, as bad as he is and as terrible as he is and as alien as he is, there’s something very human about him,” he says. “He isn’t Michael Meyers, he isn’t Freddy Krueger. He is something that we both can relate to and be afraid of at the same time—and maybe be afraid of what parts of Brandon are like us.”

In Philippine cinemas May 29, Brightburn: Son of Evil is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International. Use the hashtag #Brightburn.