Directed by: David Yarovesky
Premise: A boy from another world crash lands on Earth and is adopted and raised by a farming couple. At age twelve, the boy discovers he has superpowers but he isn’t necessarily going to use those powers for good.
What Works: Brightburn is a mix of Superman and The Omen. As in Superman’s origin story, a childless rural couple secretly adopts an extraterrestrial child and raises him as their own. And as in The Omen, the drama of the movie primarily exists between the parents and how their son’s behavior strains the marriage. The domestic scenes are the best parts of Brightburn and the cast is exceptional. Elizabeth Banks and David Denman are cast as the parents and their relationship is the heart of the movie. As established in the opening scene, the couple has struggled to conceive on their own and the alien boy is at first seen as a blessing. As their boy becomes increasingly dangerous, the husband and wife are divided about what to do about him. These scenes are so effective because the actors play them not as part of a sci-fi horror fantasy but as a domestic drama of a couple whose son is struggling with violence and anti-social behavior. That lends Brightburn a great deal of credibility and there are some real moments between the couple and between them and their son. Jackson A. Dunn is cast as Brandon, the alien boy, and Dunn is especially good. He underplays the superpowers in a way that keeps those powers convincing and Dunn is quite creepy in a restrained way. He also has some effective moments with Banks and Denman and the scenes of the boy testing adult authority are unsettling but also recognizable to anyone who has worked with adolescents.
What Doesn’t: Brightburn is built on a gimmick: what if Superman was bad? That’s an interesting place to start but the filmmakers don’t give their premise any deeper consideration than that. Brandon is established early on as an evil kid with bad intentions. He never wrestles with the moral implications or responsibilities that come with power. That might seem like asking a lot of a movie about a twelve year old boy but even Damien of the first two Omen films had some ambiguity. Brandon is a flat character and that prevents the filmmakers from doing anything interesting with their premise. Brightburn’s uninspired take on its concept is matched by a lackluster visual style. The movie follows two feature film incarnations of Superman, each with its own distinct style, but the filmmakers fail to play on that iconic imagery. The movie doesn’t offer anything new of its own either. In a marketplace that is saturated with superheroes, Brightburn had a chance to be subversive in the way the first Deadpool was but this is ultimately a pretty standard bad seed tale.
Bottom Line: Brightburn works as a horror story and its central performances are quite strong. The movie doesn’t do much with its bigger ideas or with the superhero mythology but, as the mid-credits sequence hints, this could be the start of an interesting series of films.
Episode: #752 (June 9, 2019)