If a story about an evil, 12-year-old Superman sounds intriguing, look no further than “Brightburn.” Produced by James Gunn, the mastermind behind “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and written by Mark & Brian Gunn, the film has a tiny 90-minute runtime but uses every single frame to tell its brutal story.
In the small town of Brightburn, Kansas, a married couple composed of Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) from “The Hunger Games” and Roy (David Denman) from “The Office” is failing to conceive a child. Their prayers are answered when a spaceship crashes in the woods outside their farmhouse, yielding them a baby boy from another planet. Tori and Kyle Breyer raise this child as their own, giving him the name of Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn). His adoptive parents hide the spaceship in the barn. The real story begins 12 years later. As he’s asleep one night, the spaceship begins to speak with him in his not-so foreign language. This is when Brandon starts to realize his true powers and origin.
Brandon becomes unruly and refuses to listen to his parents. He gets in trouble at school. He can throw lawnmowers across the entire farm. Nothing can penetrate his skin, and nothing can penetrate his soul. His father gives him an awkward talk about puberty, sex, and needs. He takes this as a sign to further a romantic relationship. He uses his powers for his own gain, unlike the blue-and-red figure he’s based on.
The film is extremely subversive, and it knows it. Jackson A. Dunn portrays the angst-filled, invulnerable tween near perfectly, giving us a protagonist that leaves viewers unsure of what they’re actually rooting for. This kid should be a hero; he wears a cape and has an alter-ego, but all he kills are those that wrong him. Instead of having a clear black-and-white dynamic, most of the movie deals in shades of gray. Most of the horror revolves around jump-scares and gore, but it picks the viewer’s mind apart. There’s tension, uneasiness. Brandon’s pulse-pounding actions as the violent and unhinged hero are unpredictable but seen coming from a mile away, leaving the viewer’s heart trapped in their stomach. The supporting cast does an excellent job of reacting to him and the world he creates. Banks and Denman shine in their roles of mother-that-thinks-her-son-does-no-wrong and unsure-but-always-trying-to-do-his-best father.
However, this isn’t to say the movie has no issues. Music is essential to set the tone for a movie. Timothy Williams brings his expertise from other horror films into this one, creating something entirely new. The super becomes the eerie. The unknown becomes personified. The world becomes trapped. The score shines in numerous key scenes but falls flat in the bridging scenes. The themes of this movie, while good, are never explored to their full potential; the film never takes enough time to flesh its ideas out.
While “Brightburn” may not be super, it is a good first entry into what will hopefully be many more movies that incorporate much darker spins on the classic spandex-wearing heroes.