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In the midst of this year’s superhero franchise craze, we’ve seen highs like Avengers: Endgame, followed by lows with Dark Phoenix. However, Brightburn is something different, a movie which explores in further depth the negatives of possessing great power – depicting how unnatural gifts cannot always be good. Remember in Batman v Superman, when Bruce Wayne was worried about Clark Kent’s unearthly abilities. His actions now make sense if the character saw this movie.
Directed by David Yarovesky (The Hive), as well as produced by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy), the movie begins strong, putting a fresh spin on an old idea. One night, childless married couple Tori and Kyle (Elizabeth Banks, David Denman) witness a space craft crash into their farm in the town of Brightburn, Kansas. Investigating, they find a baby human looking boy inside. They decide to name him Brandon and raise the kid as their own, not telling him his true origin.
Following some brief home movie footage – showing the child’s normal development in his stable new environment – we then flash forward about 10 years later. Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) is now an awkward teen who feels different from all others. Discovering by chance his super-human strength, he realises his parents lied to him.
Brightburn is not the straightforward story of good versus evil we are accustomed to. Instead, it delves further into the human psyche, and the realism of the unpredictable, adolescent mind. If a normal self-absorbed teenager found he had special powers, why would he choose to use them for good? It’s in these horror portions, the spark of genius within Brightburn comes to light.
Viewers should be warned this is by no means a family friendly movie. It plunges audiences stylishly into a dark, intense, atmospheric story best described as Halloween meets Superman with a dash of The Omen. Viewers watch as the innocent Brandon mutates into a slasher movie villain, a stalking anti-hero who wants to destroy humanity instead of saving it. Because of this, unlike a lot of superhero films, you generally have no idea how the movie is going to end. It’s a welcome change from the over-extended showdowns at the end of Marvel or DC films where heroes always take down the bad guys.
The only misfire in the film is the origin of Brandon. Unlike Superman, there is no solid backstory, no planet that explodes and no understanding as to what the larger picture is. To an extent, it’s admirable screenwriters Brian and Mark Gunn wanted to keep the movie self-contained, not complicating or bogging down Brightburn with detail.
But Brandon – like the Man of Steel – is drawn to the vessel he arrived in, one his parents have kept hidden on their farm. During these portions of the movie whereby the teen is manipulated to destroy humanity by the space craft, you can’t help but wonder would it have been better to learn more about the alien race controlling the main character.
Aside from this though Brightburn is an engaging, addictive watch. As the mother incapable of believing her son is bad, Banks feels authentic. Yet, it is Dunn as the creepy kid who steals the show. Delivering sinister threats in the tone of your average unconfident teen, he is a terrifying presence. Meanwhile, the gore is similarly intense and usually unexpected. It’s often coupled with jump out of your seat moments to get the heart racing. Lovers of horror, sci-fi and superhero flicks should get something out of this claustrophobic, twisted tale.