Review: ‘Brightburn’

Brightburn one-sheet poster

Brightburn | David Yarovesky | May 24, 2019

What if Superman went bad? That may be the lazy way to summarize the plot of Brightburn, but at its core, the film takes a darker look at the origin of a superhero – if they decided as a teenager that their power would be used for evil instead of good.

Brightburn still - Brendan using his powers

Directed by David Yarovesky, Brightburn, written by the team of Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn (respectively the brother and cousin of James Gunn, who produced the film alongside Kenneth Huang), begins in 2006 in the small town of Brightburn, Kansas. Tori and Kyle Breyer (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) have been struggling with fertility issues, and their prayers are answered one night when a small spaceship crash-lands in their backyard with a baby boy inside, literally answering their prayers. The story picks up 12 years later with their adoptive son Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) living a seemingly normal adolescence. Late one night, the ship calls out to him with an ominous red light. He soon begins to discover his true calling, which is to bring destruction to the world around him, starting with all those unlucky enough to be closest to him in the small community of Brightburn.

Brightburn still - Tori in hiding

The concept and idea behind Brightburn is ultimately better than the overall execution. To its credit, the film leans in fully on the gore, pushing the limits of its R rating and providing some really good over-the-top gore. But in terms of surprises, that was about the only thing that you haven’t seen before delivered here by Yarovesky and the Gunns. It pretty much goes about how you would expect, from predictable moments to the even more predictable cheap jump scares that are eye-roll inducing.

They don’t spend enough time diving into Brandon’s motivations to go bad or explore his conflict to possibly be good, as it was only sparingly hinted at a few times. I welcomed the brisk 90-minute runtime, but it surely would have been beneficial to flesh out Brandon’s motivations a bit more than just being an angsty teenager who wants to kill.

Brightburn still - Brandon wearing his costume

Elizabeth Banks and David Denman do their best to try and keep this from totally floating into B-movie oblivion, absolutely selling the chemistry of the Breyers and the conflicted nature of discovering that your son is a possible superpowered killer. Jackson A. Dunn does a solid job of selling the creepy nature of Brandon, while also showcasing bits of innocence that keep his parents – mainly his mother – conflicted as to what they should believe. There’s also some fun work from Matt Jones (Breaking Bad‘s Badger) as Brandon’s uncle.

Brightburn still - Tori with a baby Brandon

There are some fun gory moments and the film does a fine job of stretching the limits of its modest budget. There are plenty of nods to the Superman mythos, from the similarities to the Kent family to the film’s score, which is reminiscent of parts of Hans Zimmer’s Man Of Steel score. But, ultimately, Brightburn doesn’t do much to subvert your expectations of the genre and feels like a wasted opportunity to do something cool with this concept.

Rating: 5.4/10