Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Brightburn: A Review


Here's the pitch: Clark Kent as Damien. That pretty much sums up Brightburn, a film that has many possibilities and promise but squanders them on cheap horror and poor decisions.

Tori and Kyle Brenner (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) yearn for a child in Brightburn, Kansas but have had trouble conceiving. Just then, something crashes on their farm.

Move on ten years later and their adopted son Brandon Brenner (Jackson Dunn) is now celebrating his twelfth birthday. He is basically a good kid, but one with some difficulties with his peers, looking longingly at pretty Caitlyn (Emmie Hunter) and beginning puberty.

He also starts hearing something ominous coming from the barn, something that appears to take possession of him. Brandon soon begins growing angry, and you wouldn't like him when he's angry. He starts taking vengeance on those who deny him or stand in his way, the voices telling him to 'Take The World'. He then begins a killing spree that takes more gruesome turns and takes out foe and family, until after a 'mysterious' plane crash on the farm leaves him the only survivor.

Image result for brightburnBrightburn has potential in exploring the mythos of the superhero as villain rather than hero. It certainly makes no bones about essentially stealing the Superman origin story and making it a horror story. If co-writers Mark and Brian Gunn had opted to explore how Brandon's childhood shaped him into using his powers for evil rather than on jump scares and horrid and explicit killings Brightburn may have been the film they thought they were making. 

Instead, Brightburn opted for the path of least resistance, giving us rather graphic deaths that are more suited for slasher films than alleged explorations into the dark side of supernatural powers. We see one of his 'enemies' literally pull a massive piece of glass from her pupil and another person's jaw ripped in a particularly grotesque manner. I wrote down 'gruesome' and 'grotesque' repeatedly, and the graphic nature of the killings took away from the ideas Brightburn thought it was exploring.

When Kyle appears to about to do the 'unthinkable' (and frankly, director David Yarovesky shot in a way that made it far too obvious of what he was planning), I think Brightburn could have plunged into that old debate about whether one would kill a Hitler as a child. Instead, not only was there no tension but it went for yet another act of Brandon butchery.

As a side note, it's unfortunate that the nature of the killings took a somewhat repetitive nature: Brandon would look on menacingly over his victim in a ski mask that seemed to borrow elements from the Ood on Doctor Who, the victim looked on fearfully, then is dispatched.

The Gunn's screenplay could not even keep things straight, as Brightburn never made clear whether this was Brandon's puberty kicking in or the small amount of bullying he went through or the spacecraft possessing him to do acts of evil. It seemed to want it every which way, and their decision to not go one way all the way undercuts whatever genuine thoughts Brightburn might have had.

Image result for brightburn
It's a shame given that Brightburn has some surprisingly good turns from the main cast. Jackson Dunn was quite strong as Brandon, whether gentle or angry. He had a haunted quality in the beginning mixed with an eerie detachment when killing someone. He knows how to hover menacingly over others.

Denman was also quite strong as Kyle, the father who knows that his otherworldly 'son' is growing more dangerous. It's to his credit as an actor that his 'sex talk' with Brandon had a nice touch of humor, a momentary respite from the wild goings-on. I think this is Banks' best work as a dramatic actress as Tori, who loves her son no matter how crazed he gets. It's unfortunate though that by the end I felt she was slipping into farce.

It's more a pity that the supporting cast was saddled with a collection of totally dumb characters, but to their credit played the parts as well as could be played.

Finally, my negative view on Brightburn are compounded by the film's score, which seemed to go out of its way to be 'creepy', and the vague suggestion that there will be a sequel or even a whole Brightburn Cinematic Universe.

Brightburn is a good idea for a film done in by cheap horror tropes. I might be more forgiving if not for the teasing of more films in this world. More's the pity.


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