He's not here to save the world.
Superhero/horror genre mash-up shows what might have happened if a Superman-like 12-year-old actually turned out to be violently evil. Produced by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy).
Brandon Breyer seems like a normal-ish kid, but like Clark Kent before him (no-one tell DC's lawyers), he was adopted after being found as a baby in an alien spacecraft. His parents (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) raise him with love and affection in the small town of Brightburn, but are forced to consider whether nature trumps nurture when strange events start to occur, and bodies pile up.
- David Yarovesky('The Hive')
Horror, Science Fiction
Rating: R16 Violence, offensive language & horror
High-concept films don’t live or die on their ideas so much as their execution. The potential of “what if Superman was evil” is obvious—and not just in Zack Snyder's post-apocalyptic way—but what makes Brightburn tick is a tight focus, and an embrace of the grim and gory. Free of DC constraints on content, it follows an off-brand alien kid definitely not called Kal-El but Brandon (named after... Routh?), who possesses powers and a fondness for red capes. Brandon’s coming-of-age is a coming-of-evil for his adoptive parents (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) as well as the small town of Brightburn where they live, and to which the events of the film are confined.
In Jackson A. Dunn, the film has found a great Brandon, his performance swinging between oblique and threatening. Brightburn doesn't try to make us empathise with him or necessarily see him corrupted by his powers, but instead sell the scare factor of an inscrutable all-powerful alien inhabiting a kid’s form.
Thankfully for the viewer, if not the objects of Brandon’s attention, it doesn’t take long for him to discover—and almost immediately begin to misuse—his powers. Before long, there's some detailed eyeball violence, objects and limbs are being deformed, and jaws hanging open as a result of his actions. As you’d expect from an evil-kid picture, Brandon’s folks aren’t inclined to buy into their son being a super-powered monster at first, but to the relief of potential viewer frustration, they do not stay wilfully unaware any longer than seems reasonable for folks who raised a baby they found in an alien spaceship.
From the details of Brandon’s powers (strength, invincibility, heat vision, super-hearing, the ability to fly) to his caped get-up (creepy mask aside), Brightburn makes no bones about him being lil’ Superman in all but name. It’s all the more effective for it, an awareness of the full potential of his powers as an adult and their intoxicating nature being discovered by a 12-year-old making him all the creepier, and establishing broader stakes than the ones explored in the film’s immediate setting. Alongside the aforementioned goriness, Brightburn boasts some sequences of well-escalated dread, and more than a few good jump scares (Brandon gets off on some weird stuff, apparently including freaking people out before effing them up).
It’s a bit Chronicle, a bit The Omen then, but its also telling that this is the first thing James Gunn has his name on since he became the target of an alt-right smear campaign and the sh-t hit the fan. He produces, brother Brian and cousin Mark write, and David Yarovesky (who’s been in Gunn’s orbit for a while now) directs—collectively they show a fondness for genre, a sporadic appetite for the nasty, and have delivered a bloody watchable superhero-horror mash-up.
Los Angeles Times
New York Times
Stuff.co.nz (James Croot)
Sooo close to Fully Awesome.
As outlined by the other reviewers, this is an entertaining, gripping, chilling ripper of a movie with an outstanding ensemble cast. No point in repeating the details already given.
However. I found it ultimately disappointing. I will try to avoid spoilers. Read on at your own risk.
The premise "what if superman was evil?" has been explored elsewhere and very successfully too. Each of those stories swung on the belief in free will and consequences. Or, more, succinctly, nature versus nurture. Alas, this film removes one of those factors early on. After a careful laying of foundations -is this boy normal or is he a off from the get go? - there is a flick of a switch that just didn't fit. Free will appears to be removed and wee Brandon becomes puppet like. I just had to wonder, who is really behind the steering wheel here?
No satisfactory answer was offered. Nor enough to for me to form an opinion. Which left a feeling of vague discontent as I left the movie. I couldn't even decide whether or not to hope for a sequel.
The best parts for me were not the gore but that little bastard's icy detachment while he intentionally terrified his victims before squashing 'em like bugs. Jackson Dunn is quite the find. One moment so normal, the next, so not.
Lays its card on the table too early and accelerates from 0 to 100 in no time, but still serviceable
It's quite interesting to note how the synopsis is worded. Emphasis is placed on the involvement of James Gunn (the director of Guardians of the Galaxy and Slither), and yet he isn't directing the film; that role went to David Yarovesky. James Gunn involvement is that of Producer, alongside Kenneth Huang. It certainly still seems like a Gunn-led project with Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn picking up the mantle of screenwriters.
The marketing of the film overall seems rather odd. It gives the impression that James Gunn's involvement is the main drawcard of the film. You could understand this if the premise of the film was kept a secret, yet the trailers and movie posters give quite a thorough insight into the plot, and the synopsis gives everything else away. A film marketed as "What if Superman was evil?" is more than enough to bring in audiences. It's certainly what got my attention. So it seems a really peculiar decision to focus on James Gunn but still show so many of the film's set pieces in the trailers.
But back to the film itself. Brightburn is a compact and concise horror. After the opening scenes, the film feels like an unsettling drama, gradually building and developing into horror by the final act. And where the drama is concerned the acting is really well done. Elizabeth Banks and David Denman do a brilliant job as the parents Tori and Kyle Breyer. There is an authentic feel to their chemistry on screen and the way that they go about the parenting of young Brandon (played by Jackson A. Dunn). Dunn also does a great job, looking innocent and naive when he needs, to but being able to flick the switch and bring an unnerving performance when necessary.
Where the film is lacking is in the character development in the script. The premise already explains what to expect, but what I was hoping for is a much deeper look into the motivations of each character to see the gradual deterioration of morals and ethics, the twisting of one's judgement. The "what" is covered well enough, but what was missing was the "why". The film is still very enjoyable, but with a 90-minute runtime, the film seems to rush through many of the set pieces, not allowing the audience a chance to see how each event affects the titular character, Brightburn.
The tension and horror in the film are unfortunately not as high as they could be. Partially due to them showing the best parts in the trailer already, partially to do with the lack of development of the character, but tying into that, it's mostly due to the complete overpowered state of the antagonist. When you don't stand a chance, there is no tension. Which is why the setup of conflict in his moral compass is so important.
Considering the budget of the film was only 7 million, the quality of the film is exceptional. With the number of special effects and CGI involved, it is impressive that it was all done to such high quality (rated R16, the film certainly has some explicit gore). All that is really missing to make Brightburn a brilliant film, is proper development of the character's motivations. Add another half hour to the runtime and you have time to properly delve into it. The drama and relationships are already the focus of the film. The powers are ultimately a secondary plot point. The relationship between Brandon and his parents is the strongest and most engaging part of the film.
Brightburn had potential to be thought-provoking about our obsession with superheroes, but it falls short, offering little explanation to why things occur, and turning what could have set the precedent for superhero genre hybrids to come, into a slasher film that really lacked tension due to the over-powered nature of Brightburn. Fun and impressive with the budget they had, but it could have been so much more.