Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before. When an alien spacecraft lands in Kansas, a farm couple find a baby inside. As the boy grows it becomes clear he’s different. He exhibits unusual strength and other unworldly powers, living a double life to hide his true persona from those that love him. You’d be forgiven for thinking this sounds awfully familiar. Except this isn’t about truth, justice and the American way. What if instead of leaping tall buildings in a single bound, our strange visitor chose to smash through them instead? It’s the disturbing question writers Brian and Mark Gunn ask in David Yarovesky’s Brightburn.
It’s 2006 when Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman) discover their gift from the universe. The couple have been struggling with conceiving a child of their own so take the baby to raise as their own, naming him Brandon. Twelve years pass and Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) has been living a fairly uneventful live…until now. The spacecraft, locked up in the barn’s cellar, starts communicating with Brandon. The message is difficult for him to translate but it soon becomes clear that he does not come in peace. As he starts to exhibit his abilities the inhabitants of Brightburn, Kansas find themselves in grave danger.
This is a wonderfully twisted tale that excellently weaves the Superman mythos into a darkly original story. There is no subtlety from either the director or the writers as they wear their hearts on their sleeves. Yarovesky often frames Brandon in blue and red colours, most notably his red cape. Yet, this isn’t a Superman movie and has no connection to any DC universe. In that aspect, Brightburn must standalone and despite its obvious comparisons it manages to do this effectively. As the movie progresses, a carefully crafted horror movie begins to emerge as the script evolves from its origins.
While the allusions to the the Big Blue Boy Scout are a great marketing angle, it’s the horror aspect that will keep you invested in the film. Yarovesky creates a moody and claustrophobic atmosphere with a villain that hides in plain sight. Brandon is the alter ego that pretends to be human while his real persona is a vicious predator who is aware of his superiority over the human race. Some detractors criticise Superman as being too powerful in a way that makes him boring. That idea is turned on its head here which results in frightening consequences.
Dunn is exceptional in the role, exhibiting an eerie demeanour and a menacing stare. His performance is chilling as he delivers his lines with a commanding arrogance of a boy that knows he could crush you without breaking a sweat. Contrary to his methodical evil is Banks’s Tori, a loving mother that is unable to see the monster her son has become. She displays a caring nature with a protective maternal instinct that may just keep Brandon on the right side of history. Denman’s Kyle is more suspicious, to the point his rationality echoes that of the audience. Either way, both parents are hostages to Brandon’s nature.
Brightburn is a lot of fun, a unique take on the superhero genre that could have easily been plucked from DC’s Elseworlds series. It’s an original story, despite its influences, that places the bad guy at the centre of the plot. More than a supervillain origin story, the film is a fantastic horror that presents a memorable movie monster. While it will likely appeal more to comic book fans, it plays with the familiar tropes to create something unique. You’ll believe the end is nigh.