James Gunn has sort of made a name for himself by making somewhat subervisive genre films with a clever edge. Slither with the horror genre, Super! with the superhero genre, and Guardians of the Galaxy with the comic book genre. He loves genre fare and with his newfound clout in the industry and all that Guardians money, he pretty much has the ability to do whatever he wants. Well, he just doesn’t write and direct, but also produces, often giving various members of his family to write or sit in the director’s chair. I respect that he does that for smaller filmmakers, but while they may be the same family, they may not be as talented. 

Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman) are a married couple who live in the small town of Brightburn, Kansas. They’ve been having trouble conceiving a child, but they’re in luck. A mysterious object from space crashes in their backyard. An object containing a baby boy, who they decide to raise. 12 years later, their son Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) is trying to live a normal child life, but realizes he’s not like other kids. He’s invulnerable and has the ability to shoot lasers out of his eyes (sound familiar?), but when the spaceship he arrived in possesses him and turns him evil, he starts turning against the world. As Brandon gets consumed by his new powers, Tori and Kyle desperately try to save their son… or save others from him. 

The concept of “Superman, but evil” isn’t entirely new, as it’s been explored in the comics many times, particularly in Superman: Red Son, where he’s raised by commies. It hasn’t really been done in film yet and the concept is really ripe for a much darker exploration. This film is certainly dark and grim, but there’s not really much to it. Sure, it’s basically a supervillain origin story, but really, it’s just a slasher movie with an evil kid. That’s certainly been done before, but never with a kid who you can’t stop. I’ve always loved the idea of an unstoppable force, like Michael Myers or The Terminator, but this is not a film that contains that type of constant suspense. It’s really just a family horror drama with some occasional scenes of murder and jump scares. There’s some legitimately great, wince-inducing gore, but everything was so predictable and tedious. At least the performances are good, especially Banks and Denman. They both naturally play parents with believable chemistry, and I really bought the conflict between them as they tried to figure out how to handle Brandon. In contrast, Dunn totally sucks as Brandon, with his stilted delivery and lack of any sort of facial expressions. It was hard to take him seriously when he got angry. 

Brightburn clearly didn’t want to be just a horror film, but also some sort of deconstruction of the Superman mythos. It never really felt deconstructed, though, but more like something weird that borders on imitation and parody. There are shots that look almost identical to some of the shots in Man of Steel, and there’s even a scene between Tori and Brandon that feels exactly like a scene between Pa Kent and Clark, right down to the dialogue. It goes super hard with the Superman aspect, even down to the town being in Kansas, which I felt was just too much. I never knew what director David Yarovesky and screenwriters Brian and Mark Gunn were really going for in that department, so it really just boils down to a generic killer kid movie. The worst aspect of it is that Brandon is possessed by the alien ship and isn’t just some little sociopath. The reason why Superman is good isn’t because of his alien race, but because he was raised by people with good morals. The filmmakers clearly want you to fear Brandon, so they can’t really go the abusive parent route, but it would have been so much more interesting and disturbing if the kid just had a defective brain. 

Someone who’s basically a god that feels absolutely no emotion and lacks morals is a terrifying concept, but the execution here feels botched. At times, Brightburn attempts to be a subversive exploration on the Superman origin story, but really, it’s just a movie where a kid with superpowers kills people for 90 minutes. That would be fine, but it’s not scary, nor suspenseful, and doesn’t explore its concept in any sort of unique or meaningful way. Was it a deconstruction of Superman? A slasher movie? I’m not sure, but it was definitely boring. 


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