by Hope Madden
Sort of a mash up of Superman and The Bad Seed, Brightburn wonders what would happen if that special little guy you found in the crashed space ship turned out to be a super villain rather than a super hero.
But this comic book-esque origin story plays more like a straight up horror flick than an evolution of Josh Tank’s underappreciated 2012 SciFi gem Chronicle.
Elizabeth Banks stars as Tori, blue collar Kansasian. (Look it up.) She and homespun farmer husband Kyle (David Denman) always knew the day would come when they had to explain some things to their “adopted” son Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn).
While Brightburn echoes Superman in many ways, it’s far more deeply rooted in coming of age horror. It is on Brandon’s 12th birthday that he begins to change. He’s broody, more aggressive—here is where director David Yarovesky (The Hive) and Brian and Mark Gunn (brother and cousin, respectively, of producer James Gunn) abandon SciFi and dive headlong into horror.
And what we find is that, removed of their comic book splash and super hero protagonists, super villains don’t really make much of an impression in horror. Yes, Brandon has basically the same qualities as Superman—heat vision, flight, super strength—and he seems only vulnerable to his own ship (or perhaps any trace of his home planet?)—but the question is, would Evil Superman be that much more destructive than an immortal killing machine who visits you in your dreams? Or a demon from hell? Meh.
That’s is not to take too much away from Brightburn. It’s a fun B-movie with plenty of blood and gore. (It earns its R rating.) Banks is characteristically strong and Dunn does a fine job of moving from sweet boy to flat-affect sociopath.
There are definitely a couple of moments of inspired gore.
Brightburn is a capably made, well-acted piece of semi-schlock horror. It’s also the third film this year to follow a put-upon mother deciding what to do with a son whose grown almost overnight from precious baby boy to burgeoning psychopath.
And while this is a staple in the genre, Brightburn certainly taps an immediate social preoccupation with that moment that toxic masculinity ruins a boy. The film also mines the guilt that fuels insecure parents who had no real role models of their own.
The film doesn’t wind up being as clever a conceit as you might hope—again, Chronicle did it better. It’s not an entire waste of time, either.