For years, fans and moviegoers have likely wondered what would have happened if Superman was not destined to be a saviour and hero for the universe? What would this seemingly unstoppable young boy do with powers greater than any living thing? In Brightburn, director David Yarovesky attempts to answer those questions by taking the Superman origin story and spinning it on its head, giving us a dark superhero-themed tale.
The story revolves around twelve-year-old Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn), who was found as a baby by his parents Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman) in a spaceship that crashed near the couple’s farm. The two took him in and raised him as their own son, but Brandon begins to discover that he is different and capable of things far greater than the people around him.
The opening moments do a good job establishing the relationship between the characters while allowing us to piece together events, and it also endears young Brandon to the audience, nicely setting up the shocking events that will follow this.
The mix of the superhero and horror genre works beautifully, which is evident in how visually pleasing the film is. There are fantastic shots where we see our Superman inspired character through a red lens symbolising blood and another where a character hovers above the ground instead of walking. These shots create a sense of fear and dread for the events that are about to take place while not losing sight of the origin story that inspired this narrative.
Jackson’s portrayal of the superhuman child is perhaps the strongest part of this film. Much like the opening moments where we see a baby Brandon playing, there are moments after this where Brandon still comes across as an innocent kid with pure intentions, and so when he shifts to the ‘dark side’, audiences have an internal struggle because they want to root for him, but cannot do so. Young Jackson effortlessly balances these two sides of the character, and a perfect example of this is Brandon’s conversation with Merilee at her house. Initially, his tone is that of a caring young boy, and in the blink of an eye, after Merilee tells him to “be safe,” he replies by saying “You too” with a sinister smile on his face.
Elizabeth Banks is terrific in her role as Tori. She especially shines in Tori’s heart to heart conversations with Brandon, and the strong parent/child dynamic helps set up an excellent final thirty minutes. With a nice dose of reincorporation, emotion, twists, turns, and an incredibly dramatic conclusion, Brightburn earns its stripes and pat on the back with its climax.
Unfortunately, getting to the final thirty minutes isn’t a smooth process, and it’s during Brandon’s transition where this exciting concept loses steam. The majority of people that watch Brightburn are aware of the premise, but even with that fact, there’s a gaping hole of information that is left empty. We know that our “hero” is not going down the noble path. However, there’s no explanation for his actions. Unless you call scary lighting, constant chanting, and eyes that shoot lasers an explanation, nothing was answering our questions of why? Everybody knows the story of Superman, yet you still need an explanation to make the narrative feel whole.
Brandon’s switch is too sudden, and with no information explaining his transition to becoming bad, it weakens Jackson’s performance. The film also fails to highlight Brandon discovering his powers, and even worse, fails to have the human characters react to seeing such unbelievable abilities. Instead, everybody goes on about their business as if they did not see an absurd amount of strength or lasers shooting out of a twelve-year-old boy’s eyes. It makes the extraordinary feel far too ordinary.
The air of mystery is appropriate and welcomed in a horror film. Sadly, the creative team takes the phrase “control of information” too far, and instead of leaving us curious, we’re left unfulfilled in large parts of this once-promising project.
Overall, Brightburn does deliver enough scares, twists, and drama to leave you satisfied. However, with the concept and potential, this film had, one can’t help but feel this James Gunn produced feature could have been so much more.
Dir: David Yarovesky
Scr: Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn
Cast: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Matt Jones, Meredith Hagner
Prd: James Gunn, Kenneth Huang
Music: Tim Williams
DoP: Michael Dallatorre
Runtime: 90 minutes.
Brightburn will be available on digital download from October 12th and on Blu-ray and DVD on October 21st.