Directed by David Yarovesky.
Starring Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Meredith Hagner, Matt Jones, Jennifer Holland, Steve Agee, Becky Wahlstrom, Terence Rosemore, Stephen Blackehart, and Jackson A. Dunn
What if a child from another world crash-landed on Earth, but instead of becoming a hero to mankind, he proved to be something far more sinister?
If I woke up one morning and found out that DC comics were going to sue the key names involved with bringing Brightburn to life, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit. It’s not a fault of the premise, which is basically “what if Superman turned out to be chaotic evil”, but rather director David Yarovesky’s inability (alongside writers Brian and Mark Gunn, and a somewhat hands-on producer in Guardians of the Galaxy‘s James Gunn) to do anything that separates the story from Superman besides funneling it through cliché horror tactics and some admittedly gnarly deaths.
Brightburn is designed for those with darker and more cynical imaginations; it’s ruthless with no tricks up its sleeve and presents itself to the viewer as is. The problem is that its half-assed fanfiction instead of a strong collaborative effort between the aforementioned minds. It’s as if they all sat around deciding what Superman power the otherworldly teenager Brandon (who has recently discovered his powers by randomly realizing he can throw a lawnmower like a football, expecting us to believe that no other situation has arisen in his life to turn him onto his superhuman traits) should murder someone with next, with someone else shouting “DONT FORGET THE EYE LASERS”.
Perhaps it would be more forgivable if the story was halfway decent, but alas, it’s just a bunch of nonsense and horror tropes. At least the filmmakers show some restraint with explaining the mythology of where Brandon comes from, why he ended up deserted on Earth as a baby strapped to alien spacecraft, and generally explaining things. There’s no flimsy scene here where a character does a Google search fortuitously revealing all the necessary backstory and information on how to fight evil. These characters are fucked, and Brightburn‘s commitment to that bleakness is commendable. These characters are also stupid, from Elizabeth Banks’ hilariously in denial mother regarding her nonbiological alien son’s malicious intent (there’s a scene where he utilizes superhuman strength on her husband, and she STILL sticks to the stubborn mindset that it’s really her baby boy just going through a puberty phase) to basically every other family member that just doesn’t catch on to none of this being normal. There’s even a school counselor who more or less says “lol, he’s fine, boys will be boys”.
At the same time, it’s a slasher movie, so theoretically, if there are some brutal kills and suspenseful scares, Brightburn would be an artistic success on that front. And to the film’s credit, they do deliver but in a roundabout and annoying way; for whatever reason, any time Brandon is about to severely damage someone the camera cuts away to show things from an irrelevant angle, but thankfully grants us the grisly aftermath of the murders. Bodies are mangled, glass penetrates the human body in unexpectedly disgusting ways, and one character has a part of him severed in sickeningly awesome fashion. For a while, it feels like the powers are being introduced one by one so that they can be employed together in an epic confrontation, but that never happens. Brightburn teases if anything, showing us the angsty and power-hungry superhuman teenager ready to wreck a plane from the sky, only to cut away and tell audiences that something bad happened. Yes, Brightburn is incredibly violent, but in some respects it doesn’t go dark or mean-spirited enough, leaving the end product familiar, predictable, and unable to live up to its full potential, both narratively and in horror execution.
Aside from the obvious family troubles where parents make the dumbest decisions possible (the father at least realizes something is not right), Brightburn gives Brandon no motivation, which makes him more threatening and terrifying. There’s nothing you can give him or do to prevent him from taking over the world. Of course, that’s also a double-edged sword considering it means the villain is off his rocker for silly reasons like arguments with parents. He’s also weird and finds himself on the receiving end of some minor middle school hazing, but above all else just he’s evil because he realizes he has the abilities to be that way. The moral of the story here is to instill some discipline in your children so that when they discover they have superhuman powers they won’t use them bring forth total annihilation. If one’s child is a monster, they are a monster and family ties are not a reason for endless defending, which would actually resonate more with better writing. There are also some detours that don’t add up to much, namely Brandon’s fascination with a girl student that becomes a plot thread abandoned entirely.
Nevertheless, Brightburn is left open for a sequel, which could actually be much better than this origin story if the politically driven ending credits are anything to go by. Also notable is that the destruction caused has a dementedly fun tone, something that probably would have worked better than trying to invent a new genre touted as superhero horror. Jackson A. Dunn is also suitably creepy in the role, perfect at utilizing dead eyes and blank stares, so seeing more of this supervillain serial killer would certainly not be a bad thing. Come for the death and gore, facepalm where it all goes wrong, and leave with some optimism for the future in what is trying to be accomplished here. Brightburn is sinister, but never transcends its fanfiction concept into something more enjoyable than its twisted violence.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com