BRIGHTBURN is directed by David Yarovesky and produced by James Gunn from a screenplay by Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn. The film stars Jackson A. Dunn, Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Matt Jones and is now playing in theaters from Sony Screen Gems and Stage 6 Films.
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? With Brightburn, the visionary filmmaker of Guardians of the Galaxy and Slither presents a startling, subversive take on a radical new genre: superhero horror.
Brightburn was one of my most anticipated films of 2019. The concept of “What if Superman was a serial killer?” shook me to my core as a comic book fan. The film is nearly identical to the origin story of Clark Kent/Superman, as a young baby from another planet crash lands near a farm and is raised by his adopted family until he begins to realize his true powers and abilities. Young Jackson A. Dunn is that alien child who quickly begins to understand that he’s gifted and super bored of listening to his adoptive parents played magnificently by Elizabeth Banks and David Denman (these two steal the show and play their parts remarkably well and believably so). The film is a tight 90 minutes so be prepared to feel like you’ve just been thrown into a meat grinder as opposed to a slow character study of a child turning to violence over a period of time. Brightburn goes from zero to murder almost a little too quickly.
After we are treated to a fun little montage of little Brandon Breyer (our future supervillain) growing up, we quickly get into the shit as he starts to realize that he’s quite a bit different than everybody else after he launches a lawnmower through the air and decides to shove his hand into the spinning blade to discover he’s invincible. From that point out, he’s drawn to the vessel that he crashlanded in, as a sort of alien voice speaks to him from the pod, driving the poor kid literally insane. From that point onward, Brandon decides that humans are a waste of time and he begins to impose his power upon those who simply piss him off. It starts with a disturbing playground injury and then rapidly veers into murder territory for the rest of the movie.
Now, the kills are OK (the best one being a pickup truck assault – literally), but because Brightburn is such a short film, it felt a little rushed to see Brandon go from curiously crazy to unrelenting sociopath within a matter of minutes. I didn’t feel sorry for him at all and when you have a child villain in your film, I do find it better to play them as at least a tad sympathetic. I didn’t – in fact I was on board with killing the little bastard pretty quick into the film because what he does is EXTREMELY VILE. Just wait until you see what he’s been hiding under his bed and worse yet – in the barn…. Because of the extreme nature of Brandon’s rapid descent into madness, it also made the scenes with his mother (Elizabeth Banks) feel a little silly at times as she defends her son (did you see what he did to that other kid on the playground dude? Grow up). I do think that the movie needed some additional time spent exploring this relationship as opposed to including more kill scenes, which kinda felt like standard horror stuff anyway in the grand scheme of things. For a movie that has one of the most original and brilliant concepts – the product overall felt safe and formulaic.
Where Brightburn really shines, is in its brutality and nightmarish conclusion which sets up room for even more movies in James Gunn’s twisted evil superhero universe. I missed this initially but apparently Rainn Wilson’s Crimson Bolt makes a quick cameo appearance during the end credits sequence (he’s the anti-hero from Gunn’s directorial masterpiece SUPER from years back). Plus, there are some other incredible teases in these final seconds but I won’t spoil them here. Director David Yarovesky is a talented dude and I think he did a wonderful job with what he had, but as a huge fan of superhero films I don’t know if the horror/hero hybrid genre they tried to invent here fires on all cylinders because it tends to lean heavier on the horror/thriller aspects rather than the comic book stuff.