What if instead of being a benevolent force for ‘truth, justice, and the American way’, Superman saw us as an inferior nuisance to be conquered. That’s the premise driving sci-fi/horror flick, Brightburn. Fan favourite James Gunn produced the early summer release. Alongside Gunn, frequent collaborator David Yarovesky made his directorial debut. Making it a family affair, cousin and brother, Brian and Mark Gunn wrote the screenplay. While Brightburn profited at the box office, it under-performed relative to expectations. Moreover, critics were largely divided on the sinister superhero movie.
A childless couple in Brightburn, Kansas, have their prayers answered when a spaceship carrying a baby crashes near their home. Naming him Brandon, Tori and Kyle Breyer raise the child as their own. For 12 years, Brandon and his adoptive parents live a normal family life. But when he hits puberty, the derelict spaceship begins transmitting strange signals to Brandon. Soon he discovers that he’s invulnerable and possesses immeasurable powers. As Brandon becomes increasingly disconnected from humanity, his parents must face the possibility that their ‘son’ is extremely dangerous.
Brightburn Falls Victim To Familiar Slasher Tropes
In spite of a premise rich with story potential, Brightburn seems to run out of ideas pretty fast. To date, movies like Watchmen and Captain America: Civil War have examined the dangers and ethics of superheroes to varying degrees. Even found-footage thriller Chronicle looked at the dangers posed by super-powered people. There’s so much subtext to explore with the concept. We live in a world where some countries and world leaders exercise a frightening level of power. What would happen if ‘Superman’ was evil?
Genre fans will definitely enjoy a few inspired gore scenes.
Yet with so many potentially interesting ideas, Brightburn opts for pretty derivative scares and a slasher mentality. In the plus column, director David Yarovesky has fun with the ‘super-powered’ horror. Genre fans will definitely enjoy a few inspired gore scenes. A crushed hand, jaw-breaking, and a shard of glass caught in the eye are just a few examples of the garish mayhem. Brandon splatters and barbecues characters with his super-strength and heat vision. Truly, horror fans may appreciate the subversive twist on the Superman mythos. But if you came into the movie expecting more from the story, you’re likely to be disappointed. Moreover, Yarovesky seems to run out of ideas for scares. Standard jump scares abound. And Yarovesky overuses the image of Brandon hovering in the background before disappearing when the camera shifts. As a result, Brightburn feels oddly flat.
Elizabeth Banks The True ‘Superhero’ of Brightburn
As Brightburn’s subversive ‘Superman’, young Jackson A Dunn is well cast as Brandon. On the one hand, the role doesn’t call for too much range. Brandon is meant to be largely apathetic and disconnected from others. In this regard, Dunn conveys an emotional distance fitting of the character that never feels like a flat performance. In addition, Dunn explodes with the expected rage when the story requires it. Playing adoptive father, Kyle Breyer, David Denman is perfectly fine as the one parent who knows something is very wrong. Unfortunately, the story only gives Denman one real scene that demands a lot of emotion. Otherwise Brightburn mostly relegates Denman to the sidelines.
Though Brightburn often feels as emotionally disconnected as its super-powered ‘bad seed’, Banks absolutely nails the emotional conflict experienced by her character.
Make no mistake about it, Brightburn is Elizabeth Bank’s movie. Though Brightburn often feels as emotionally disconnected as its super-powered ‘bad seed’, Banks absolutely nails the emotional conflict experienced by her character. As a mother torn between the love for her son and fear of his true nature, Banks gives the most real, raw performance in the movie. She conveys a range of emotions from love, protectiveness, denial, and outright terror. Sadly, Brightburn wastes Banks’ outstanding performance with its underwhelming story.
Brightburn Doesn’t Quite Soar to Inspired Heights
To be clear, Brightburn is by no means a bad movie. In fact, one could argue that it’s a victim of its own premise and expectations. With so much potential, Brightburn seems content to coast on Banks’ performance and standard slasher horror. You won’t be bored watching this “Bad Seed‘ meets ‘Superman’ hybrid. Nonetheless, Brightburn likely won’t inspire multiple viewings either.