Review by J.T. Johnson
The hook for “Brightburn” is a simple one. What if Superman came to Earth but ended up being an evil alien that wreaked havoc once he realized he had superpowers? The film is the latest from producer James Gunn, writers Brian and Mark Gunn and directed by David Yarovesky. While the hook for the film is engaging, the real question is whether or not the film can sustain itself as a genuine horror experience.
The good news is that the film is pretty damn chilling. Jackson A. Dunn plays Brandon Breyer, the “adopted” son of Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman) Breyer. They live in Brightburn, Kansas, and in truth, they found Brandon after a spaceship crashed in the field near their house. When Brandon turns 12, it’s suggested that he’s hit puberty, but the ship that he also came in starts to communicate with him and, unfortunately for our characters, this means trouble.
The movie contains a chilling tone once Brandon realizes his powers. He also becomes a complete and total sociopath, totally devoid of any sense of humanity. When people die or something bad happens (whether he causes it or not), he shows no emotion or remorse. Thankfully, Dunn is up to the task of playing a truly menacing preteen superhuman and his blank, emotionless face is almost more disturbing than any of the horror found within.
Another thing that works in the film’s favor is that it mostly relies on a chilling tone. You’re on the edge of your seat as you wonder where in the hell Brandon is at and who he’ll terrorize next. You’re also wondering when the characters will figure out what is going on and if there is anything that can stop this superpowered freak.
Now, despite the fact that it does rely on a mostly chilling tone, I should make a note about the gore. The film features a surprising amount of bloody mayhem and doesn’t shy away from showing you the results of Brandon’s actions. This is truly on display during one particularly eye opening section that even made me cringe, but I don’t want to spoil it here.
Most horror films fall on one side or the other of the chill/gore spectrum. Some just have a genuinely creepy atmosphere while other films go all in on the gore. “Brightburn” finds a successful balance between the two. While there were a few gory scenes, I never felt that they overwhelmed the movie.
I only had a couple of minor problems with the movie and the first was that the ending was pretty predictable. You really only have two ways this film can go and it definitely chooses one way or the other. Again, for the sake of spoilers, I obviously can’t say how the film ends but feel that anyone with half a brain will be able to figure it out pretty early on.
The second problem is not really a problem, admittedly, but a note of preference. The movie never fully explains Brandon’s origins such as where his ship comes from or why the ship wants him to do bad things. It’s not necessarily bad that the film doesn’t answer the entire mystery behind Brandon, but if you like a detailed backstory for why things are happening, you’re not going to get it here.
Despite the slightly predictable ending, though, I must admit that this film worked on me. It works best when it’s a straight up horror film and, again, Dunn is truly creepy as Brandon. I should also mention that it helps that Banks and Denman also give great performances as Brandon’s understandably concerned parents and you find yourself genuinely concerned for their safety overall.
The movie gives us our first true horror flick with a superhero spin. You’re hooked by the simple premise, but you stick around for the horror contained within. Let’s face it, in a world dominated with superhero films, it was only a matter of time before someone made a horror film surrounding a superpowered being and I’m proud to report that this is a pretty successful effort overall if you’re a fan of decent horror films.