Brightburn Movie Review
What if Superman were a psychopath? That’s the basic premise behind the entertaining if slight superhero-horror movie Brightburn, which entails a couple who live on a farm, find an alien baby who has crash-landed in their back year, raise the child as their own, and discover he has superpowers.
What possibly could go wrong?
Jackson A. Dunn plays the 12-year old Brandon Breyer, a seemingly even keeled if slightly odd kid who gets lightly bullied—though the cute girl in class clearly likes him. His parents, played by Elizabeth Banks and David Denman, love him—that is until he breaks someone’s hand in gym class and other bad things start happening around town.
The premise, to be blunt, is fucking awesome—everyone knows the story of Clark Kent/Superman, but he’s always viewed as a virtuous being here to protect mankind. Flip that on its head and you have a nightmare scenario indeed. It’s certainly not an original concept—DC Comics has taken the “nurture” approach with Superman: Red Son—what if Kal-El crash-landed in Soviet Russia, not the United States?—and plenty of other comics have presented alternative “What If?” takes on their heroes—but it’s a concept that largely hasn’t been seen on the big screen.
Brightburn certainly doesn’t make the most of its fucking awesome premise, but it largely delivers on expectations despite a limiting $7 million budget.
James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, but also the horror movie Slither) was marketed heavily as being involved with Brightburn, but he’s only a producer; brother Brian Gunn and cousin Mark Gunn wrote the movie, with David Yarovesky (no relation) helming the film. The filmmakers make the most of the money at hand, offering up a tight, to-the-point story of what would happen if a psychopath with Superman-esque powers were to flip out and go on a killing rampage.
At only 90 minutes long, it can easily be argued the film is too short—character development is heavily sacrificed, and character development is what could have lifted Brightburn from good to great. It would have been more interesting to see little Brandon become more and more troubled rather than “possessed” by some frequency emitted from his spaceship, which makes things simple from a storytelling perspective but is never adequately explained. More so, the characters around him aren’t always super convincing—most notably, his father (Denman) pivots to “kill the bastard” a little too quickly.
But in those 90 minutes, Yarovesky and the Gunns give us a satisfying little horror flick that has a couple okay jump moments, a few creepy scenes, and some seriously satisfying death scenes (in short: the movie isn't scary, but it is gory), which become increasingly gory as the bodies start to stack up. Brandon, when wearing his mask and donning red, laser-beam eyes, looks pretty damn terrifying.
If anything, and with a larger budget, it would have been fun to see what comes next—but alas, that isn’t what this movie is about. Brightburn isn’t perfect, but it’s a fun little film nonetheless.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.