Brightburn (2019) Review
Brightburn is one of those movies that you might see just for the novelty of it. And when it’s tackling horror tropes and dispensing with social commentary, the Superman horror directed by David Yarovesky shines. It’s too bad that for Brightburn being a standalone story not affiliated with DC or Marvel, the Brandon Breyer lore the movie offers barely scratches the surface of what an “evil” Superman movie could be.
Brightburn chooses to tell the Superman myth with a horror bent-a boy grows up on a farm with his two loving parents and as he enters puberty, he discovers he is a foundling from the woods nearby with superpowers. Upon discovering he has superpowers, he decides to use them for evil. Instead of the original story where he uses them for good. We’ve all had that idea, right? What would an evil Superman look and behave like? David Yarovesky (Nightbooks, The Hive) gets to take credit for the idea.
James Gunn of Guardians of the Galaxy fame gets to take credit as well, as a producer with his brothers Brian and Mark Gunn, who also co-wrote Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, writing the screenplay. Elizabeth Banks (Man on a Ledge, The Hunger Games franchise) stars as Tori Breyer, Brandon’s mom, and David Denman (Logan Lucky, Puzzle) as Kyle, Brandon’s dad.
Brightburn was successful at creeping me out. Elizabeth Banks, and Michael Rooker (Corrective Measures, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer), who makes a cameo, starring in Slither (2006) as well as Brightburn was not coincidental. Slither and Brightburn bear some similarities, one major similarity being the “small town, small minds” allegory. For all that, Brightburn plays its story and horror straight.
Brandon Breyer played by Jackson A. Dunn (Avengers: Endgame, The Scent of Rain and Lightning) is a precocious kid who looks unused to farm work. Uncomfortably smart, he is at the tipping point in junior high where he is starting to look unliked by his student body. The movie has a couple of good allegories, but the one about “going through puberty, so, therefore, an alien has taken over my body” was probably my favourite. Noticing that as a budding teen, Brandon is starting to be into some really weird shit, and Dad is beginning to get some bad vibes off Brandon. No one understands Brandon like his mother, though. . .
I wanted to like this movie more than I did. Some of the horror gags were great, and if you’re just going to see a slasher flick with a body count and some great gore and violence, this movie is for you. From that angle, I appreciated how I could turn my brain off and watch it. And perhaps, with the light introduction of a new supervillain, a slasher with a superhero “filter” over it is enough to wet your whistle.
Even with that being said, however, it’s interesting that it was essentially a monster horror. And one where I didn’t feel sympathy for any of the monster’s victims. I don’t know if that was intentional or not. But it was his parents who I really felt sympathy for. They seemed like good people.
That being said, I don’t know if I really felt sympathy for the character of Brandon Breyer, either. There’s not really much explanation in the film of how the monster, for lack of a better word, infects him. One question niggling in the back of my mind was if Brandon was evil from birth, and the events of the movie merely awaken that, or if the events of the movie cause evil and he was good from birth until then. In watching the film, I found the character of “evil” Brandon Breyer interesting, if a bit shallow.
Probably for the best that Yarovesky and the Gunns didn’t introduce too many ideas about how for smart loner kids in a small town, high school and small-town life can be a prison. The looks and manner that Dunn nailed make him look like he could shoot up a school.
To say much more about Brightburn other than that wouldn’t really fly, here. So to avoid any other low-hanging fruit I’ll simply note that Brightburn is a tight little film with a runtime of 90 minutes. That might make it a little light on exposition, but there’s not really a lot of new ground to cover once filmgoers realize it’s an evil re-do of Superman. It also helps the pacing of the movie.
You can catch Brightburn on Netflix and other Digital platforms as well as on DVD and Blu-ray. To find more information about the film, visit their website at Sony Pictures Entertainment or their Facebook page.