The origin story of Superman is something that is engrained in pop culture mythos so it is surprising it has taken this long to get an evil twist on that iconic story. The baby who lands in a spaceship to be raised by farmers speaks to humanity’s potential for good but this time it is flipped around. Despite all of the nurture given by loving parents the kid’s true space alien nature is quite evil. Brightburn turns the Superman origin mythos into a splatter horror movie and takes all of those powers that Superman has and cranks them up to their messy full potential. To put it in Superman mythos parlance, when the spaceship with the alien baby lands sometimes you get a Kal–El and sometimes you get a Zod.
Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman) are raising their adopted son, Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn), who is a very smart kid is developing some eccentric quirks like various super powers such as super strength, indestructibility, flight, heat vision and more. The kid is probably quirky because he was adopted by his parents when his spaceship crashed when he was a little baby, a secret they have kept for years. But when the spaceship buried in their barn starts to make freaky noises, Brandon begins acting possessed. While he may be interested in girls and becoming his own person, that person may turn out to be an unstoppable murderous alien psychopath.
The template of Brightburn is taking iconic aspects of the Superman story and twisting it. In Superman, little Clark learns to be good by his parents so he grows up to be a hero. The parents in Brightburn seem loving so the movie makes it that alien possession by the spaceship in the barn turns him wonky. At one point the kid starts nattering in an alien language and eventually reveals that he’s saying, “Take the world”. It does undercut some of the drama that the kid is possessed by outside forces to be evil instead of him consciously making the choice to be evil. On the flipside as he does horrible things it has twisted a sense of kid logic to it all because his misdeeds just are so parents won’t find out.
This is a gory movie with several messy scenes. There is a bit that involves a severe eye injury that is really intense, especially when the camera takes that point of view showing what it would look like. Another point the kid trashes a car with a poor sap caught in it and the result is literally draw dropping. There is a gleefully dark way that Brightburn takes the Superman power set sees what would happen when it is unleashed on squishy, breakable humans. The craziest is seeing heat vision was unleashed at point blank range.
This is a fairly small scale film, it’s almost entirely set on the farm, as the superpower freak out scenes are basically punctuation points after long stretches of dialogue. Despite the superhero trappings, it plays like a standard horror film where things lead up eventually to the person getting splattered. It may have the format of a superhero origin story but Brightburn is basically a possessed evil kid movie. But, like any good sci–fi genre film, the emotional story is a metaphor; in this case it is about raising a troubled kid.
Banks as the mother is plays it like she is in a family melodrama. Denman gets a moment where the dad gives “the talk” to the kid about his body changing, which is appropriately awkward. When the parents start to realize that their kid is evil incarnate it gets more complicated as the father starts to look at the situation dispassionately while the mother becomes even more maternal. The best bits from both the mother and the father come at the end where both of them have to make tough choices.
As the kid, Dunn starts off as inherently sympathetic as he’s possessed by something that he cannot overcome. But as his evil grows he becomes more unemotional, such as when his parents inform him a terrible tragedy has befallen a loved one his response is very cold. The homemade mask that he puts together is twisted and Dunn does some very good emoting with just body movement.
The ending of Brightburn is deliciously dark and even the mid–credits has teasers of potentially even more super–powered chaos which seems to be a cheeky reference to the way superhero movies keep teasing more installments during the credits. The FX it isn’t wall to wall like most superhero movies, here the FX shots are employed judiciously so they have impact. A bit when the kid is hovering over the home and talking to his mom on a cell phone is framed where he’s out of focus on the foreground as the home floating is underneath him that looks freaky.
Brightburn is basically a splatter horror movie but with some superhero fringes. It goes to the extreme how truly terrifying and unstoppable a superpowered kid could be without anything holding him back. It is a slow burn descent that takes it’s time to and unleashes insane stuff right at the end. V
4 out of 5 stars
Director: David Yarovesky
Starring: Elizabeth Banks,
David Denman and
Jackson A. Dunn