By: BabyRuth (Three Beers) –
A mysterious aircraft crash-lands on a farm somewhere in middle America. A couple discover an unharmed male infant on-board and decide to raise the child as their own. As the boy grows, he develops super-strength and otherworldly powers.
Heard this one before?
Not so fast! This is where things take a turn.
A very, very, dark turn.
Brightburn answers this question: What if prepubescent Superman was a nasty little demented brat who uses his powers for evil instead of good when he doesn’t get his way?
Brightburn does not answer this question: What the hell was that couple thinking?
Everything seems to be going well for Tori and Kyle Breyer (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) and their “adopted” son Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn), having settled into a nice home life in the town of Brightburn, years after the childless couple found little Brandon and decided he was a gift from the heavens because they watched The Odd Life of Timothy Green too many times. But shortly after Brandon celebrates his twelfth birthday, things start to change and I’m not just talking about the ever-increasing amount of tissues the family seems to be going through.
Brandon begins exhibiting bizarre and violent behavior. He often heads out to the barn, where the Breyers have not so discreetly “hid” the spaceship, which appears to be giving him messages. Confused about who or rather, what, he really is, Brandon begins to act out more and more and it soon becomes apparent, even to the people who have loved him unconditionally as their own, that this kid is pure evil and it may be too late to do anything about it.
If I go crazy, then will you still call me Superman?
I went into Brightburn almost entirely blind. I didn’t see the trailer. I read the synopsis on IMDB about a month ago and thought it looked interesting. I knew it was produced by James Gunn (it’s co-written by Gunn’s brother Brian and cousin Mark Gunn and directed by David Yarovesky) and that the plot was about a child from another planet who may or may not be evil, so I assumed it would be a PG-13 sci-fi with a couple scares thrown in here and there.
I was not expecting a very hard-R superhero/horror mash-up. The concept has been somewhat explored before but never with a full-blown slasher movie that subverts the superhero origin story formula. After countless entries into both the Marvel and DC cinematic universes, this a refreshing idea and a great surprise.
Brightburn is not a superhero film with horror elements, it is a straight-up horror movie. And boy are there some gnarly kills. Wince-worthy, seat-squirming, squint-and-look-through-your-fingers gnarly kills. This one earned its R-rating and it’s great to see a slasher film not afraid to push the gore limits, especially with good, old-fashioned, practical effects (which fare better than some of the CGI).
What’s also impressive about Brightburn is that was made on a slim budget, reportedly only between $6 and $7 million dollars.
Finally, the cast is great. Jackson A. Dunn is effectively creepy as Brandon. Elizabeth Banks and David Denman take stock characters (clueless parents of an evil child) and give them more depth than we usually see in films like this. They earn the viewer’s empathy, even as they are doing the Stupidest. Possible. Thing. Imaginable (which happens a lot). The supporting cast is game as well. (Matt Jones’s delivery of the line “Nope!” is perfection.)
Unfortunately, even with a great concept, an original genre-twist, and a committed and talented cast (not to mention a name-drop like “Producer James Gunn”), Brightburn is a bit of a letdown and follows the most obvious, predictable beats, first with the not-Superman setup and then turning into a where’s the killer now? slasher movie. There’s so much that could have been explored and with the opportunity to flip a well-known story into a funhouse, upside-down nightmare, virtually limitless boundaries. Yet, aside from the level of gore and possibly the ending, there isn’t much that is not easy to foresee.
Usually brevity is a good thing in a film, however in this case, we could have used a little more backstory and slower pacing building up to Brandon’s transformation into an unremorseful alien killing machine. His motivation is never explained and while he claims to want to be good once or twice, it’s never clear if he is being sincere or not. He just goes from a somewhat normal/maybe a little off kid to bloodthirsty monster. Hopefully a longer cut/deleted scenes exist and will be made available sometime in the future.
Brightburn is short, not sweet, and to the point, a very gruesome point. While there are missed opportunities and the film could have benefited from the story being a bit more fleshed-out, it’s got a great concept, makes the most of its small budget, and is a decent jumping-off point for what could be the most twisted superhero franchise ever (stick around for the end credits), which I am fully on-board for.
Just a suggestion for adult Brandon.
Brightburn (2019) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever anyone says “he’s just a twelve-year-old kid” (He’s not you idiots!)
Take a Drink: whenever the “BB” symbol appears
Take a Drink: whenever Brandon’s eyes glow
Take a Drink: for every actor who is part of a superhero franchise
Take a Drink: if you catch the (James Gunn’s) Super reference
Do a Shot: whenever you wince and look away from the screen (no shame)