What if Ma and Pa Kent had found an evil alien baby instead of Superboy? This is the basic premise to the horror film Brightburn, where writers Mark and Brian Gunn give us a dark fantasy tale of a being with incredible powers, one who doesn’t seem to care about Truth, Justice or the American Way. Now, this is certainly not the first time we’ve seen this kind of superhero “What If” story; Mark Miller’s Red Son dealt with a world where Superman had landed in the Soviet Union, and even regular-ass Superman has gone evil from time to time — curse you Red Kryptonite — but producer James Gunn isn’t playing around in DC’s Extended Universe, so instead we will be seeing knock-off versions of Martha and Jonathon Kent. Also, there will be lots and lots of gore.
Sweet but sadly infertile couple Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman) have been praying for a child. Unfortunately, the prayers are answered by rather suspect channels. A spaceship lands next to their Kansas farm — because of course it’s Kansas — and inside the ship is a little baby boy. The now happy couple decide to keep the child and raise him as their own, which is honestly a more dubious prospect than this movie depicts. Exactly how do you just tell people you’ve adopted a kid? Wouldn’t schools and the like need proper documentation of where this kid came from? Regardless the Breyer family have twelve happy years with their loving son Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn), who seems to be a bright and well-adjusted kid if considered a bit nerdy by his classmates, but when “puberty” hits, something inside Brandon is triggered.
The crashed ship, hidden inside the family’s abandoned barn, which seems to have awoken a malevolent force within Brandon, and before you can say “A strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men,” the kid is exhibiting superpowers such as increased strength and speed, invulnerability, flight and heat vision. He quickly uses these powers to dispatch anyone he deems to be a threat, in a rather gruesome fashion, while his poor mom lives in the land of denial. Now, it is the parental dynamic that is probably this movie’s greatest strength, as you can understand a mother’s desire to believe in the best of her child, and when she sobs, “Whatever you’ve done, I know there is good inside you!” it is a truly heartbreaking moment. Elizabeth Banks does a fantastic job and her performance is simply topnotch, she remains grounded and believable despite the craziness that abounds, and David Denman provides solid back-up to her character as a dad who quickly starts to wonder if bringing an alien child into their home was a good idea.
As a horror film, Brightburn does provide some solid suspenseful moments, with Brandon stalking and murdering his “enemies” in a variety of brutal ways, and director David Yarovesky has a deft hand with these moments, keeping viewers on the edge of their seat. But as the 90 minute run-time starts to wind down, we begin to realize that there isn’t much else going on other than “What if Superman was Evil?” We get hints that Brandon may be some kind of alien cuckoo, sent to Earth as a forefront to an alien invasion, but no time is spent developing this as we quickly jump to Brandon going into Super-Slasher mode. We get the local sheriff (Gregory Alan Williams) attempting to tie all these grisly murders together, but aside from a strange symbol appearing at all the crime scenes — which he amazingly deduces is the stylized initials of Brandon Breyer — this investigation thread doesn’t end up going anywhere.
With a staggeringly low budget of $7 million dollars, this is a surprisingly impressive movie when it comes to the visuals; the evil superhero moments are all depicted quite well, and as mentioned, the cast all put in excellent performances. Sadly, when the end credits rolled, I was left with a feeling of “So that’s it then?” as the overall story is on the thin side. In 2012, Josh Trank’s Chronicle gave us a superhero tale of the corruption of power, while in this film the Gunn family didn’t delve any deeper than “Oh boy, that kid sure is evil” and the result is the lesser for it. Brightburn is still quite an entertaining little horror film, but the greater potential that was left on the table is a tad disappointing.
Question: When Brandon cobbled that costume together was he intentionally going for a serial killer vibe?
Movie Rank - 6.5/10
With the horror genre chock full of any number of murderous figures I must say seeing a twelve–year old Superboy going on a murder spree was pretty cool, and if they’d only worked a little harder on expanding the mythos we could have had something really special.