Movie Review: "Brightburn" (2019)
I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t the average 12-year old in in the summer of 1991. Even at 40 years old today, I’m still pretty far from okay and more than ready to pop off and do something really nasty. If you’re being honest with yourself, fellas, you’ll admit about the same. But, man…we’re all psycho fucks when we’re on the cusp of our teenage years. Puberty is damn ugly and very hard on the psyche. Brightburn understands this and sets that in a reverse-Superman setting and story for one hell of a popcorn horror flick while possibly birthing a new genre- the superhero horror film.
Tori Breyer (Elizabeth Banks; Slither, Zack and Miri Make a Porno) and her farmer husband, Kyle (David Denman; Logan Lucky) are trying desperately to conceive, to no avail. Their prayers are answered when a “meteor” literally falls from the heavens into the woods on their Kansas farm containing a baby boy from outer space (I told you it’s heavily Superman inspired). What a blessing! Fast forward 12 years: their son, Brandon (Jackson Dunn; Avengers: Endgame) is now a ridiculously intelligent boy who knows he’s different. He’s about to find out exactly how different when some force inside the craft that brought him to Earth awakens and begins to speak to him in a wicked language that he slowly comes to understand while sleepwalking. As his powers manifest, Brandon realizes he has the ability to handle his bullies in violent fashion. He also realizes that he has a much broader goal that spells big trouble for everyone unfortunate enough to piss him off.
It’s easy to dismiss Brightburn as being a paper-thin concept of the reverse-Superman, and writers Brian and Mark Gunn (cousins of Guardians of the Galaxy writer/director James Gunn, who was also Executive Producer) don’t do anything to dispel the notion with their lack of serious characterization or concept development. However, that’s not exactly what they were attempting to do here. The 91-minute run time could’ve been fleshed out to a full two hours and enriched the story as a whole, that’s true. No one would have complained, and it would’ve provided a different take. It is superficial in that regard and shows in the pacing.
However, they were clearly going for a mean and nasty tale about the ugliness of the pubescent stage of life, wrapping it up in a red cape and giving it some familiar superpowers that definitely weren’t intended to benefit mankind in any way. The cautionary moral of “be careful what you wish for” doesn’t need to be heavy-handed to be effective. Also, Brightburn is very clearly a horror film first and foremost; it’s merely the FLAVOR that is a superhero tale. There’s already been some flack about social commentary and dangerous attitudes that are inappropriate in the day and age of the school shooting being a regular thing in America. Don’t misunderstand what is being presented here: straight horror with a desire to go straight for the throat without apology. On that front, Brightburn succeeds wonderfully.
There’s a strong slasher vibe that pairs nicely with the “it’s a bird, it’s a plane” trappings we’ve become so accustomed to after decades of caped crusaders. The SFX are a spectacular blend of practical and CGI that rise above the 7-million dollar budget. When Brandon kills, he does so without a hint of remorse and in horrific fashion. What he does on the hunting trip is something I’ve literally waited my whole life to see.
Elizabeth Banks is on her game as the mother who doesn’t want to believe what’s right in front of her. She’s rarely been better, and she carries the film. Jackson Dunn is wooden, but it’s hard to tell if that’s a conscious effort to play the boy as the cerebral outsider or if he’s just not overflowing with charisma here. David Denman is a great everyman/Dad. Look for Matt Jones (Badger from Breaking Bad) as the scene-stealing Uncle Noah; his end is disgustingly memorable.
Brightburn stalks like Halloween, flies like Superman, and teaches a lesson like Carrie. It’s absolutely a popcorn flick and won’t be mistaken for attempting to go for the Oscar, but if you want redemption and sunshine then you should stick to Marvel fare. This is horror, dammit!
Going back to that 12-year old in the summer of 1991…hell, I don’t find his actions all that shocking. There are very few creatures walking the skin of this planet as (potentially) violent and hateful as the pre-teen male. Had I the abilities of young Brandon Breyer in that long ago year, I’m sure it would’ve been every bit as nasty. Brightburn simply has the balls to say it and ask you to face it.