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Brightburn tells the story of Tori and Kyle Breyer (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman), a couple in the fictional small town of Brightburn, KS who continuously try and fail to have a baby. After an alien child falls from the sky (much like a certain beloved fictional character), they adopt him and name him Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn). As Brandon begins to go through puberty, he starts exhibiting superhuman abilities. However, rather than being overcome with a sense of responsibility to protect others, Brandon decided to use his new powers for other, more selfish, purposes.
The film was produced by James Gunn, who is one of my favorite filmmakers, and it was written by his brother Brian and cousin Mark. While there are a few indications that James was involved, it doesn't have the "feel" of a James Gunn film. While this was a tad disappointing to me, it didn't really affect my opinion of the movie, and it will not color my criticism of it, as presented here.
I had a good time watching Brightburn. It's got some flaws, which I'll get to, but I enjoyed it a good bit. The biggest selling point of the film (as advertised) was the appeal of seeing a horror variation on Superman's origin story. Clark Kent's discovering his powers as he entered his teen years was always an allegory for puberty/entering manhood anyway, so Brightburn proposes what that would be like were Clark a psychopath. And Brandon Breyer (continuing the tradition of alliteration in superheroes' names) makes for a pretty cool villain.
As with every horror film based around a killer, the kills themselves are a vital part. And the kills in this movie are pretty good. Brandon having superpowers allows for a good deal of freedom with his methods of murder. One other thing that's kinda cool is that, in true serial killer fashion, Brandon has a little insignia that he repeatedly doodles in his journal, and he leaves it at the crime scenes. This was a nice touch.
As stated above, Brandon's parents are played by Elizabeth Banks and David Denman (whom many of you will know as Roy from The Office). They both do a great job, especially given that their characters are incredibly emotional and conflicted. One complaint that I've heard is that Banks's character is far too deep in denial about her son's homicidal nature. She repeatedly dismisses/defends him, even when his violent tendencies manifest themselves right in front of her. While I understand how most audiences would find this frustrating, I wasn't too bothered by this. There is a certain stereotype of white suburban moms being unwilling to accept their children's awful behavior, and her character seemed to be parodying this type of mom. Jackson Dunn, who plays Brandon, is great. Child performances in horror movies are very hit or miss, but Dunn does a good job of making Brandon feel like a normal kid who becomes a monster. Some may gripe about Brandon's transition being so abrupt, but it didn't feel unnatural to me. He instantly knew that with the powers he acquired, he could get and/or do anything he wanted. Suddenly, we see the real Brandon Breyer. His cruelty has always been there, but he's never been able to wield it properly.
The one gripe that I see most frequently is that, once Brandon becomes this supernatural killer, the film just becomes a standard slasher film, and I kind of have to agree. This didn't profoundly affect my enjoyment of the film, but I feel like they could have done more exploring with his character. There wasn't quite enough emphasis on Brandon developing as a villain, he just is one. While the character is undeniably cool and entertaining, the movie's depth suddenly stops. However, missed opportunity aside, the surface-level horror is well-done.
While Brightburn is a bit shallow, it's certainly a fun ride. The idea of making a slasher film with a character that, in any other film, would be a superhero is one of the more creative subversions of the typical superhero formula. The acting is great, the gore is plentiful, and while one feels as though more could have been done with this premise, Brightburn succeeds thanks to its uniqueness and pure entertainment value.