What if Superman was not a benevolent hero, but an evil being with no regard for human life? BrightBurn takes the classic origin story and gives it a fairly entertaining horror, sci-fi spin. The film is produced by Guardians of the Galaxy creator James Gunn and written by his brothers, Mark and Brian Gunn. Their clever premise is used strategically to overcome several shortcomings. The end result is a dark, lean film with bursts of horrific violence and gore. Brightburn doesn't fully maximize its potential, but is good enough to be a crowd-pleaser.
Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman) Breyer are a happily married couple in the small town of Brightburn, Kansas. Their struggle with infertility is solved on a fateful night. A meteor crashes in the woods behind their farm. It contains the answer to all of their prayers and dreams. They raise the baby as their own, showering the child with love and affection.
On his twelfth birthday, Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn) begins to exhibit strange behavior. The shy, extremely intelligent boy becomes cold and erratic. He begins to sleepwalk at night, always drawn to something hidden in the barn. Tori and Kyle become alarmed over an incident with a female classmate (Emmie Hunter). They chalk Brandon's behavior up to puberty, but his father is becoming more unnerved. As violent incidents shatter the peace of Brightburn, Tori and Kyle are faced with the realization their beloved miracle may be something sinister.
Brightburn uses the warmth of Superman imagery to invoke terror. The Breyers are essentially the Kents. A kind Kansas farm couple, unable to have children, are sent an extraordinary child from the heavens. Jackson A. Dunn is Clark Kent's evil tween doppelganger. The character is also dressed in red and blue. But instead of hiding his powers or using them for good, this space kid is an unrepentant killer. The Gunn brothers and director David Yarovesky (The Hive) explore the Lex Luthor take on invincible aliens.
Brightburn's characters are poorly developed, especially Jackson A. Dunn as Brandon. Everyone is one-note, the doting mom, the fearful dad, the scared girl, and the unemotional killer. The Gunn brothers needed to add dimension and nuance to the characters. At no point do they behave or act unexpectedly. It makes the film quite predictable. Brightburn could have been much more engrossing. The relationship between Brandon and his parents was prime for exploration. It would have added gravitas to his dark turn; which is done like flipping a switch. Jackson A. Dunn is a child actor, so I attribute his performance to the director. David Yarovesky is too horror mechanical in his approach to the antagonist. Clark Kent has a personality. Brandon Breyer does not.
Brightburn is small in scope, but delivers grisly carnage. A few scenes are stomach churning. I give the filmmakers credit for packing a bloody punch. The violence goes a long way. The gore is effective and essential to the evil Superman plot.
I wish Brightburn was longer and more detailed. It sails by at a breezy ninety minutes. You're never bored, but an opportunity was missed to really dive into the premise. Brandon's scenes in school and interaction with his female classmate are fleeting. Imagine if Man of Steel or the classic 1978 Superman were written from Brightburn's perspective. That would have been awesome to see. Brightburn is a production of Stage 6 films and Screen Gems with distribution by Sony Pictures.