Brightburn review Elizabeth Banks

Year: 2019
Director(s): David Yarovesky
Writer(s): Brian and Mark Gunn
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
Color, 90 mins

Synopsis: Anti-Superman. (Source)

By design, Brightburn is difficult film to like. We aren’t meant to sympathize with its budding super villain, nor does the film show any empathy for him. What we’re left with is something that’s just so bleak and unflinching, it’s almost unenjoyable. In twisting superhero mythology and turning it over to the dark side, director David Yarovesky and writers Brian and Mark Gunn don’t hold back. This thing is nasty, grisly and a true inversion of the ubiquitous genre. But while viewers’ “enjoyment” of the film will vary, it’s hard to deny that the final result delivers true existential horror, pulling upon a darkness that we all know exists and amplifying it to unsettling levels.

Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman) Breyer have been unsuccessfully trying to have a baby. One fateful night, a ship literally crashes into their isolated farmland. Inside, is a fragile little baby. Flash forward, this little boy is 12-year-old Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn), whom the Breyers have raised as their own. But while his parents have kept the the circumstances of his cosmic arrival from him, something within is awakening. With every urge, Brandon is being seduced toward a darker, sinister purpose.  

In transposing the genre into horror, Yarovesky orchestrates an unsettling blend of slasher beats and pre-teen angst. From the get, we feel that this isn’t going to be a safe ride. As soon as we meet Brandon, he almost instantly begins to turn, with social and domestic disfunction serving as his motivation to go dark. As such, the story directly confronts ideas of masculine toxicity, with more than half of Brandon’s victims being the authoritative or female characters in his life. While some of Brandon’s anger doesn’t feel quite earned, the symbolism is striking. Rather than the human compassion or nobility that we expect, Brandon is a black hole of sinister machination. Yarovesky’s Superman subversion is unflinching to say the least, with some admittedly inspired superhero carnage giving the twisty ideas some nasty teeth.

Brightburn review Jackson A. Dunn

Another element pushing the film past limitations, is the ensemble. Elizabeth Banks and David Denman bring their a-game to some underdeveloped ideas. Both of them are basically the heart and soul of the film, each forced to make some difficult choices. Though the writing leans a bit too stereotypical (he senses the evil, she blinds herself too much in order to be nurturing), they add a human element to the darkness. As the film’s lightning bolt, Jackson A. Dunn does the best with what he’s got. He has the right menace and can carry the complexities of his character, even if the film remains surface on what makes him tick.

Brightburn definitely works, but it isn’t fun and there’s too much subtext to pass this off as cheap escapism. As is, it does exactly as promised, providing counter programming to the types of superhero films we’ve been used to getting. I personally wish the film pushed its nature/nurture debate a bit further, but still find its lip service fascinating. If it sounds like this film has conflicted me, it has. I like a lot of what its exploring and dissecting, but it’s also definitely a biter pill to swallow.