“He may look like us. But… He’s not like us!”
Dir. David Yarovesky
Runtime: 90 minutes
Starring: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn
Did you ever wonder what would happen if the “Superman” story was different? I am taking a leap of faith and assuming that you know the Superman origin story – alien/humanoid baby lands in the middle of nowhere and is adopted by young couple. They raise him to use his powers for the good of mankind. Super baby grows to be Superman.
But “what if” that was not the case. It is something that comic makers and fans have wondered for many years. For example, “Red Son” had Kal-El (Superman) landing in Russia; “Speeding Bullets” had Kal-El found by Thomas and Martha Wayne (Bat-parents) and trained to become a Super-Bat-Man; “Bump in the Night” had an evil super-powered humanoid alien terrorizing humanity; “Earth-3” based comics also have similar set ups with conventional heroes playing villains, and convention villains as good guys. This is what “Brightburn” brings to the table. Written by Brian and Mark Gunn, with James Gunn and Kenneth Huang in as producers, this film ask’s “what if” – but just to be clear, this is not based on a comic despite using comic book foundations. It bares a lot of resemblance to comics, in particularly the aforementioned “Bump in the Night“, but this is a film before anything else.
A spaceship crashes in Brightburn, Kansas, and is found by Tori and Kyle Breyer. They can conceive a child naturally, but when they inspect the crashed spaceship their luck in for a change as they find a child which they call Brandon. To hide the truth of the child they stash the spaceship in their barn. 12 years later the spaceship starts to transmit alien messages and it changes Brandon, waking something up in him which has been dormant since birth. He then goes from bad to worse as he slowly tries to execute the ships commands of “Take the World”. Surely his parents can stop any problems and help find the righteous path.
This is a crossbreed of superhero film and horror film. Imagine Michael Myers, but he can fly and shoot lasers out of his eyes. It’s that, just right at the beginning of his origin story before he kills his sister. It shows the monster being born and coming to terms with his powers. You’ll see things like Brandon breaking into a walk-in freezer using his laser eyes, or using the same power to burn peoples faces off. He’ll fly through a house to wreck it, and use his flight and super speed to to stalk and torture people from near and afar. He doesn’t care who his victims are, he has powers and and evil intentions.
The pace of the film is good, and it chugs along nicely, a bit fast at times because the characters are not really explored in detail, but it does not ruin the film. There are plenty of gory scenes, some of which are proper gut churners – watching somebody pull a shard of glass out of their own eye ball is surefire way of invoking reactions from the squeamish! Because the audience is let into Brandon’s secrets and how escaping him is practically impossible, it generates plenty of tension. To some extent we’re watching him metaphorically pull the wings off his human flies because mankind are insects to him. There are some good visual effects and a haunting score compliment the film well. Considering this was all brought together for a relatively low budget of $6-12 million, there is a lot of goodness here to enjoy.
Elizabeth Banks and David Denman play Tori and Kyle Breyer, while Brandon/Brightburn is played by Jackson A. Dunn. Banks is the big star of the show as she plays mother and scream queen to her monstrous son. She does really well, and I genuinely felt sorry for as she uncovered more and more of the truth. Jackson A. Dunn does well to keep any emotions in check with his performance and comes across as the quiet kid that you don’t want to mess with because you don’t know what he’s capable of.
I really enjoyed this film. It’s not for everyone because a lot of people have their own expectations on how superhero films should be. What we are given here though is a great experimental superhero/horror cross over which looks good and entertains. I thought that the film could be a lot darker and meaner than it turned out to be – the trailers certainly suggested it would be twisted and dark. Still though, it was a great fun to watch this superhero horror film, and it is a nice way to expand what superhero franchise films have been giving audiences for a while now. I love a film where the ending isn’t necessarily happy, and this, along with Michael Rooker playing a loony conspiracy theorist at the end of the film, this really made me smile.
Will there be a sequel? Well I’d like to think so, but I have to also face the facts that despite making a profit, the film wasn’t recently brilliantly. In 2019 director David Yarovesky said that he would be happy to return for a sequel though, something echoed by Jackson A. Dunn in interviews. The end credit give some potential inclusions for a sequel including a half man/half fish terror, a screaming woman/witch, an alien, a flash-like character (potentially “The Crimson Bolt” from 2010’s “Super“) – so only time will tell. But sitting down to write this in 2021, I’m still waiting!!