In Review: Brightburn

A horror/super hero/science fiction film that never goes beyond its premise.

Brightburn

Premiered on  May 24, 2019. 91 minutes, rated R.

Directed by David Yarovesky

Written by Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn

Everyone knows that this is a grim look at what would have happened had Superman not been the hero that he was born to be. The question for this film is if this is an entertaining look down this dark rabbit hole. The answer is yes and no.

Twelve-year-old Brandon Breyer is having a normal life: not fitting in at middle school, being smarter than his peers, and pining for a girl he likes. Things change when something hidden in the barn begins to glow red and sends messages to him as he sleeps. He tosses, turns, and sweats up a storm until he opens his eyes. He throws open his window, he’s on the second floor, and leaps out to run to the barn to pull on the locked item beneath him. His mother Tori finds him speaking a language she doesn’t know and touches him on the shoulder, breaking his fervor. He wakes as if he’s sleepwalking, but he’s never experienced this before.

Tori doesn’t tell husband Kyle about what Brandon was trying to open, but says their son is acting strange. In his room she comes across some things that have her suggesting they should go camping, where dad can have the “talk” with Brandon. The talk is the only funny moment in the film, with no humor to be found anywhere else in the movie. After the “talk” Brandon does something that begins his rapid decline. His scene with Emmie Hunter is terrifying, because the viewer knows what could happen, and it does happen, though it’s the next day at school. Aunt Merilee works at school as the counselor and has to check to see if her nephew, as a student, is okay. She learns some things that has her wondering if she should tell Tori.

This is one issue with the movie: no character is willing to tell the other what they know or suspect. It’s only when it’s too late does the truth come out. Before that happens there are two extremely graphic scenes. Gore is fine for shock or to increase the horror. It doesn’t work for the moment in the diner, but it does work for the scene on the road. There’s some hardcore killings in this movie, but they occur so quickly there’s no time to see the death, only the splatters of red after the victims have been slammed aside. The special effects are good, with the flying effects being streaks of red on the screen from the makeshift cape worn by Brandon, but I would have liked to see the tiny terror more in action.

Elizabeth Banks does a really good job as the mother who’s going to be loyal to her son no matter what, being the parent that she didn’t have in her youth. She’s the mom that everyone wishes they had, but her flaw is not thinking her boy could ever do wrong. David Denman is also good as the big, burly mountain of a father who wants his son to be normal, bur realizes that he will never be. Jackson A. Dunn is fine as Brandon, but spends most of the movie just looking silently at other characters, in and out of his mask. I realize doing this is supposed to freak out the viewer, but it got a little frustrating because he was so silent. He was much more frightening when he let loose with his emotions, warning people not to do things. His scene with Meredith Hagner is chilling. There’s a brief cameo by Steve Agee as EJ, who I wish could have had more time on screen, because I think he’s great, but it was not to be.

Being very familiar with Superman stories and having read a lot of comics, much of this film is predictable. It’s been done for years by several writers (Alan Moore on MarvelmanMiracleman in the U.S. and Rick Veitch’s Maximortal are two of the best), so the plot goes as one expects. It’s not bad storytelling by any means, I was an ardent viewer. But when the movie finished, I felt letdown.

The credits feature a fantastic scene with Michael Rooker as The Big T, an online wack job that talks about the end of the world, mirroring Alex Jones in his delivery. What he says is happening around the world teases more stories from Brandon and others like him. It’s interesting to see what direction a sequel would go in, but I don’t know if there’s enough in this movie to pull people in to generate enough money for one.

The final line: This is an okay horror/super hero/science fiction movie. The acting is fine, there are several jump scares, and the music is outstanding. The story, sadly, goes exactly as one expects, never going beyond its simple premise. If one is looking for heroes going evil, I would check out Chronicle from 2012. Brightburn is watchable, but I wasn’t wowed by it. I can’t imagine watching this again. Overall grade: C

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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