What if Superman crash landed on Earth and used his powers for evil? Director David Yarovesky’s newest film Brightburn, attempts to answer that question. The superhero-horror is written by Brian and Mark Gunn and stars Elizabeth Banks, David Denman and Jackson A. Dunn. The film follows a young alien boy who realizes he has powers and begins to terrorize the citizens of Brightburn, Kansas. Spoilers after the trailer.
It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s A Disturbed Kid
Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman) are a couple that want to have a child but they are experiencing infertility issues, unexpectedly, their whole life changes when a spaceship containing an alien boy crashes on their farm. The Breyers adopted the boy, named him Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn), and raised him as their own. Fast forward twelve years and Brandon is going through this weird phase of puberty where he hears voices in his head and discovers that he has super strength.
While cutting the grass, Brandon discovers he has superpowers once he tries to crank the lawnmower and throws it hundreds of feet away. This was a smooth way to show the change in his body and show the audience he has super strength. He puts his hand on the spinning lawnmower blade and jams it. This establishes the moment that he realizes he’s different from humans. Brandon was sleepwalking later that night after the voices in his head drew him to the barn, which is where his family had hidden his spaceship. His mother takes notice and catches him trying to open a trapdoor and wakes him up. Later in the film, when Brandon violently kills the chickens in the barn, his mother, who at this point KNOWS SOMETHING IS UP WITH HER CHILD, is comically naive and thinks that wolves broke into a locked barn and slaughtered those chickens. More on this later.
Another positive that Brightburn has is its leading actor Jackson A. Dunn, who made a decent debut in his first leading role in a feature film. A big part of this movie relies on him pulling off the weird/strange kid vibe and he successfully does that.
There are times where the horror aspects of the film are effective. The scene where Brandon becomes his alter-ego Brightburn and murders Erica (Becky Wahlstrom) at her diner does a lot with a little. There is a piece of glass that is stuck in Erica’s eye and as she’s panicking and slowly pulls it out, it creates the most tense scene in the film.
The superhero aspect of the film is where the movie falls apart. This film functions as an origin story for Brightburn and there are moments where Brandon states that he wants to be good but the movie never shows us an example of him conflicting with the morality of the harm he caused. The movie doesn’t even explain why Brandon starts misbehaving in the first place, instead he becomes evil because the script says so and it’s very jarring. Jackson A. Dunn’s character never felt fully developed and during the 90 minute runtime there was so much going plot wise by the end of the film you do not care about any of the characters because they end up being forgettable.
When it comes to the costume for Brandon’s murderous Brightburn alter-ego, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, James Gunn stated:
“Trying to create a really truly iconic horror movie character in the same way that Freddy Krueger is, or in the same way that Leatherface is, or in the same way that Jason is. Trying to create something with that same sort of feel that is instantly scary [and] plays with the superhero-ness of it all but at the same time is most definitely rooted in horror.”
The costume pictured above is the final result and for me this costume looked goofy, like something you would expect in a parody or a superhero-comedy. The idea is that a kid would create a costume like that but even children are more imaginative than this. There’s a scene in the film where a character says that it looks creepy but if this movie took place in the real world Brightburn would be ROASTED. For Gunn to mention Krueger and Leatherface in the same sentence as that is an insult to those iconic characters. The movie establishes that Brandon is intelligent, demented and has a twisted mind and his costume would’ve been a great way to show that, instead we get a kid who looks like he put his head in a crocheted sock with laces on it. Sigh.
Outside of the film’s terrible costume design, the writing is this film’s ultimate kryptonite. In Superman lore the most hokey thing is that the people (mostly reporters) who know of Superman and Clark Kent cannot tell the two apart even though all he does is comb his hair and take off his glasses. Brightburn doubles down on that type of idiocy with its most frustrating character, Tori Breyer. A recurring trope of a supernatural kid horror film is that one of the parents can never believe that their baby could do such a heinous act –
usually the child ends up killing the other parent and OF COURSE that happens in this film too – Brightburn wears that trope to the ground.
Tori has adopted an alien child that CRUSHED the hand of another student at school and lacks remorse about it; she’s seen him be drawn to the alien spaceship in her barn where her chickens are slaughtered and she thinks that it’s a wolf; and her husband as raised legitimate concerns about their son’s behavior after Brandon chewed up a fork like his mouth was made of a garbage disposal. Through all those things listed she still did not want to believe that her alien son was a monster. It was nauseating to watch her in denial when all the evidence was there and with better writing then – maybe – the audience could understand the disbelief that she had. Her character was introduced as someone that was having fertility issues and somehow by the time you walked out of the theater you realized that Darwinism was working because not everyone should be a parent.
With superhero content being a trend that everyone is attempting to cash in on these days, Brightburn ends up being as disappointing as the (latest) films that the main character is loosely based on. Hopefully, one day there’s a superhero-horror film that delivers on the idea that this film attempts to execute. The Gunns have a lofty idea, but this movie turns out to be disappointing and boring at times. The horror works at times, the glass in the eye scene is tough to watch for those that are squeamish. The film doesn’t delve into the superhero aspect enough outside of Brightburn having Superman’s powers, everything else is halfway thought out. The character development is non-existent and the film doesn’t offer any depth to Brandon Breyer or why he’s evil outside of him going through puberty. Clocking in at 90 minutes, the plot is rushed, which is why it’s hard to feel any sort of emotion for Tori Breyer once Brightburn finally kills her. In 2019 alone, there have been plenty of horror films released with parents in denial, and films where the mother of a supernatural boy who didn’t make her denial of her son’s evil deeds feel as tiring. The gorey moments are fun to watch, but overall, this one wasn’t worth the price of admission. The film ends with news reports of Brightburn causing havoc on the rest of the planet to possibly set up a sequel. On top of that the song that starts with the ending credits is ‘Bad Guy’ by Billie Eilish, which couldn’t even be more on the nose.When James Gunn’s brother Brian and cousin Mark came together with the bright idea of creating a superhero-horror, the final results crashed and burned like the pod that Brandon Breyers arrived in.
[All Mames Wey]
Brightburn was released in theaters May 24, 2019.
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