Produced by fabled Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn, Brightburn is a horror film that asks the question ‘what if a child from another world crash-landed on Earth, but instead of becoming a hero to mankind, he proved to be something more sinister?” If this sounds familiar to you, it’s because it should, Brightburn presents as an Elseworlds take on the well known Superman origin story. Alien child crashes to a town in rural midwestern America, this time in the town of Brightburn, Kansas, who is found and raised by a family of farmers and has great powers. The twist here is that the child is evil, and uses his powers to avenge himself on anyone with only the slightest of provocations. One-third too-edgy take on a beloved hero, one third tale bullying revenge tale, and one-third festival of gore and violence, Brightburn both fails to make any of those things interesting while making me wonder why this film exists in the first place.
Edgy and dark takes on characters seem to be all the rage, of late, especially when it comes to ones that were previously thought of as bright and unvarnished, but this film doesn’t do that well. The character of Brandon Breyer, played by Jackson A. Dunn, who played young Scott Lang in Avengers: Endgame, had only just turned twelve years old when he begins to manifest his dark side, giving the viewer not a whole lot to connect with him on, and other than some very surface level bullying from one student and a very justified rejection from a crush, there’s no reason for this character to be evil, other than he’s just a sociopath. When compared to evil depictions of evil Superman, like in the video game Injustice, are done better, as you get to see reasons why he does evil things, rather than it being merely a superpowered tantrum.
As for the horror of it all, it almost exclusively lives in it’s over-reliance on gore and jump scares. Nothing about the premise itself is all that scary, once you see how it’s being played out. Beyers isn’t menacing in any way other than making you wait to see when not if, he’s going to kill whichever character is on screen at the moment. The film is filled with gore, dismemberments, and blood all over the place, and for some that might be enjoyable, but it isn’t exactly for me.
It is not all terrible. There are many callbacks to the Superman concept, from the red cape Breyers wears, establishing shots that look as though they were lifted from Snyder Superman, to even interesting Easter eggs, like how his crush is working on a paper about truth, justice, and the American way. Dunn does have a creepy look to him as if he isn’t quite human even before he becomes evil. While I don’t believe their characters make sense at all, Elizabeth Banks (The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, Power Rangers) and David Denman (Logan Lucky, Power Rangers) make me believe that they believe their actions are the right ones. Michael Rooker makes a surprise appearance in a mid-credit scene as a conspiracy theorist, linking the events of the movie to sightings of other horror versions of DC Comics characters. Director David Yarovesky did mention that if this film does well, he would consider turning this into a cinematic universe. As it finished it’s opening weekend fifth, making $7.5 million domestically to only barely clear it’s $6 million budget, it seems unlikely, and for that I’m glad.
At a tight and very fast paced ninety minutes, Brightburn doesn’t last too long on the tongue, but I do question what I’m to take from this movie that would appear to have been written in 2017, and had principal photography start in March of last year. Superman is about the ultimate American, a refugee from elsewhere who was raised in our breadbasket, to epitomize what it means to be not just a good man and a hero, but the ideal American. To take that myth and turn that story into one about both an immigrant and a young white male is bullied and then turns into an unstoppable murderer whose first act as a fully powered being is to stalk and hurt his crush and then terrorize and assault her mother, in 2019, is a lot to swallow. When bad depictions of foreigners and young white males habitually torment schools in the real world, I’m not certain that this was the movie we needed to see at this moment, even if the child is literally an alien.
Brightburn is open wide in cinemas near you.
David Castro is a Puerto Rican writer from New York City. He has worked on the upcoming Undead supplement for Chill Third Edition and is working on launching a Patreon. You can find him on Twitter (@theinkedknight), on Tumblr (thedevilsyouknew), on Facebook (facebook.com/inkstainedstudios), and at davidrcastro.com.