As someone who has a deep admiration for superhero stories of all types, Brightburn was, as the kids say these days, “100 percent my jam.” It hits all the necessary beats one would expect from an origin story, but once it heads into full-blown horror territory, that’s when Brightburn transforms into a truly creepy and unsettling exploration of just what would happen if an otherworldly entity that had endless powers wasn’t bound to our society by any kind of morality code, and decided to use that to fulfill their darkest impulses.
At the start of Brightburn, we’re introduced to Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman), who have had difficulties conceiving a child and are desperate to complete their family. One fateful night, a ship crashes on their farm in Brightburn, Kansas, containing what looks to be a tiny infant, and the couple immediately thinks their prayers have been answered. Over the years, the Breyers watch as their adoptive son Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) grows up, but once he hits that tough pre-teen age of 12, their usually sweet and thoughtful kid begins to exhibit some disturbing behaviors. Torn between their love for Brandon and wanting to do the right thing, Tori and Kyle struggle with just how exactly to deal with their son’s horrific transformation, and must figure out what to do before it’s too late for Brandon and for all of humanity.
While it does venture into completely new territory as the first-ever slasher/superhero movie, Brightburn does tread some familiar territory early on, so much so that if you switched out scenes from this and swapped in some of the early moments of Man of Steel, you probably wouldn’t notice a huge difference. That’s not me criticizing Brightburn, though, I just think those similarities make for an interesting back-and-forth between our own beliefs about these types of characters and how we always expect our heroes to be, well, heroic.
But that’s not Brandon. Not at all. His alien species sent him to Earth not as a benevolent force of good, but to wreak havoc, and once Dunn’s character begins to realize his abilities, he embraces his true nature, which is when Brightburn becomes a complete horror show. And despite the fact that Brandon’s malicious intentions cannot be contained, that doesn’t stop Tori, who is propelled by her unwavering maternal love for her child, to try and pull her son back from going over the edge completely, despite whatever his preternatural inclinations might be.
When Brightburn leans into its genre elements, that’s when the film really begins to find its footing story-wise, and there’s a confidence to the way director David Yarovesky builds tension in several of Brightburn’s key moments of terror, which I very much enjoyed. I know the “eye scene” had been released into the public in the last few weeks, which is truly a visceral moment in itself, but there’s another set piece in Brightburn that takes things to even more horror-fueled heights, so much so that I (as well as several other people around me) exclaimed loudly, “Holy shit,” as soon as Yarovesky hits the reveal after one of Brandon’s attacks. Honestly, it’s probably the most cringeworthy moment I’ve seen in a studio film since the release of the Evil Dead reboot in 2013. It’s just wickedly nasty fun (and I absolutely loved it).
In this day and age where we are already inundated with tons of superhero-centric entertainment, I’m not quite sure just how many folks out there are willing to embrace a shockingly savage tween antihero who mutilates victims and obliterates others into a pulpy, gooey mess. But for me, I very much enjoyed the way that Yarovesky and co-writers Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn play around with all these different tropes in Brightburn, taking them into some very twisted and dark places, and I’d love to see more from this world in the future.
Movie Score: 4/5