Horror sourced from a dark reflection…
Clearly a contortion of a superheroic icon, Brightburn is nonetheless a decent movie even if certain fans may find it depressing.
Starring Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Matt Jones and Meredith Hagner
Released by Sony Pictures, Screen Gems
Written by Mark Gunn and Brian Gunn
Directed by David Yaroevsky
Horror, as a film genre, seems to be more susceptible than others to a torrent of middling-to-bad examples. It’s not too difficult to see why, just because there seems to be a fanbase for almost every kind of horror movie — including some really, really bad ones — all of whom have a ravenous appetite for anything to scratch the ongoing pursuit they may have for the adrenaline shot they received from the first scary movie they ever watched.
As a movie, Brightburn takes a bit of a different tact in delivering its thrills and its scares. By using what is arguably the most widely-known superhero origin story in existence as the jumping-off point for its story, director David Yarovesky and screenwriters Mark and Brian Gunn — along with producer James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, Super) — very clearly swerve their movie and its characters in a very different direction from the origin story of the Last Son of Krypton.
In the beginning, Brightburn has a lot of surprising aesthetic and spiritual similarities to the Smallville-bound scenes found in 2013’s Man of Steel, but the movie as a whole also keeps all of its story content confined to the small, titular town of Brightburn, Kansas. There are no cities to be found, no large stakes to be fought for. Just an intimate cast of a half-dozen regulars who slowly begin to realize that a monster lies in their midst.
By just barely nudging the story of young Brandon Breyer (played by actor Jackson A. Dunn) into an unsettling direction after he starts to suspect that he is different, the movie does a very good job of ratcheting up the action ever so slightly until the point it reaches a fever pitch. First, young Brandon finds himself crunching on his fork until it’s dented in his mouth. Then, he slams his fist on a table in a restaurant, causing the lights to flicker all around them. The first time he hurts someone, he breaks a classmate’s arm in a fit of anger.
It’s moves like that, slowly increasing the capabilities of Brandon, that make the ultimate realization of his true power all the more unsettling by the time the movie is getting ready to tee up its final act. Brandon is a powerhouse, and it’s that realization — coupled with an apparently intrinsic belief in his own superiority over the people around him — that lead to disastrous consequences for his town and his family, before he turns his attention to the world.
The story is largely anchored by one key performance: Elizabeth Banks’ turn as Brandon’s adoptive mother, Tori Breyer. The last to realize the danger that Brandon poses to those around him, Tori is blinded by the love of her son and her belief that he is “a miracle” who came to she and husband Kyle (David Denman) after years of failing to produce a child of their own. Brightburn’s story gets some additional points because, in the end, it’s largely about a mother’s broken heart, and her realizing too late that the being she called a son is too heavily embedded in a belief — and perhaps a program? — that the world is his to take.
It’s not without its issues, though. The story arguably doesn’t do enough service to the changes found in Brandon’s personality, instead relying on the fact that he’s a cold and distant alien who is effectively and totally swayed by the flip of some kind of technological switch. It helps expedite the movie’s overall pace, but it also means that the story rather conveniently moves from a young boy’s idyllic life to the horrors granted by his otherworldly power very, very quickly.
Brightburn is not a bad movie, and as far as widely-released horror is concerned, it’s actually pretty good. However, it was also monumentally depressing, because it continues to exacerbate the ongoing friction between the general public, and how they view one of humanity’s greatest-ever ideas: Superman.
Learn more about my perspective on that by clicking here.