A short but sweet horror film that riffs off of tropes that comic books have used for decades.
When Tori and Kyle Breyer struggle to have a child of their own, they see it as a blessing that from the sky fell a mysterious baby boy. Raising the child as their own they couldn’t be happier, that is until Brandon Breyer starts to change…
In this day and age you cannot visit the cinema without a comic book adaptation or two showing in several screens, it is refreshing to see an original screenplay rising out of the noise. Directed by newcomer David Yarovesky, who has strong ties to the Guardians of the Galaxy movies (and not just because Brightburn‘s producer being James Gunn, or one of the co-writers being Gunn’s brother) the film has a very simple premise: What if Superman was evil.
Inherently evil, too. The film follows Kyle and Tori Breyer as they raise their young son Brandon from their sleepy farm in Kansas, and by all appearances Brandon is an extremely intelligent but normal kid. Right up until he hits puberty. The film follows two parents, played by Elizabeth Banks and David Denman, struggling to control and defend their son’s violent outbursts. Jackson A. Dunn, who plays Brandon, may be recognised by eagle-eyed Marvel fans as the briefly youthed Scott Lang from Avengers: Endgame, plays the role with credibility. While it is mostly the “troubled and introverted youth” stereotype, he does represent a bottled up rage and fluctuating emotions well.
Certainly, despite the connections to Marvel’s more fun-loving series, don’t expect the same from Brightburn; this is a horror film for the most part, with levity entering the script only after things start going wrong for our characters. The meat of the story comes from its intrigue between the characters; we have Brandon, clearly being influenced by some evil outside force, and we have his parents who are desperately trying to defend him. There’s a sense that we, as the audience, know the story can only go in one direction, but the dedication shown by the parents, especially from Elizabeth Banks’s Tori, is pushed to the absolute limits. It proves to be quite compelling for how small a story it is.
The violence and gore is certainly stacked in the second half of the run time, perhaps even just the final act. The content is relatively tame to begin with. But it captures the sense of how scary a being like Superman could be, if it were real; what happens when you have a person who is invulnerable to damage and can fly at super speeds? Or has laser eyes?? It certainly doesn’t hold back with the gore when it wants to go ahead with it, it is almost jarring how gruesome it can be.
Whether this review has been spoilers or not is debatable, and this does play into what could be the film’s weakness. Despite knowing very little about the story, “evil Superman” is apparent from the get go, which does ruin any of the film’s ambiguity and can paint the characters in a light of stupidity; “How can you not realise what is happening?”
But, even if you were to go in blind (and why this review isn’t spoilers) is that the film does show us something falling from the sky, and these two wannabe-parents suddenly having a kid between edits. The fame of the Superman story really makes this unambiguous as to Brandon’s nature, even to the most ignorant of viewers, and perhaps had the film withheld some of the details until the second or third acts it might have been all the stronger for it.
Overall though, even though the story was straight forward, it still had a new and refreshing take on familiar territory. Definitely a film for horror fans, and probably one for comic book fans who are looking for something radically different from the established norm.