Brightburn (2019) Movie Review - Dark Anti-Superhero Horror

Horror, Sci-Fi | 90 min
  • Director: David Yarovesky
  • Actors: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Matt Jones, Meredith Hagner
  • Writers: Brian Gunn, Mark Gunn
  • Producers: James Gunn, Kenneth Huang
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English
  • Parental: Intense Gore, Injury Detail, Language, Nudity, Violence
  • Horror, Sci-Fi | 90 min

What if a child from another world crash-landed on Earth but instead of becoming a hero to mankind he proved to be something far more sinister?

The superhero genre is more popular than it has ever been. With Marvel releasing hit after hit and DC.. erm.. trying, cinema goers can’t seem to get enough. With that in mind, there has never been a better time to explore the darker side of the superhero universe. Enter Guardians of the Galaxy writer, and former Troma screenwriter, James Gunn and his twisted take on the superhero genre – Brightburn. Armed with a bevy of superhero experience, what can we expect?

Superhero Chronicle

We may as well get this out of the way early in the review. Many people are talking about Brightburn as if it’s the first movie to ever flip the superhero formula on its head. Brightburn’s story of power corrupting and creating a monster seems pretty original but it has been done before. Most notably with 2012’s Chronicle which was based around a similar premise. The big question here is whether Brightburn does it better?

Chronicle obviously did things a little different. For one it was a found footage movie with a much different aesthetic. Chronicle also approached the story in a different way; for example the characters were not born with their powers. It did, however, feature a conflicted antagonist who, due to difficulties in life and a lack of social acceptance, chose to use his powers for bad rather than good. The age groups of the characters are quite different and the motivations vary but the overall theme is very similar.

Chronicle was fantastic and very unique given the fact that there was nothing similar at the time. Brightburn is being afforded some of that praise itself but it’s worth remembering that the precedent has been set before and it’s not quite as unique as it may initially seem.

Not so Superman

Brightburn focuses on the Breyer family; Mum Tori who is played by the always underappreciated Elizabeth Banks, Dad Kyle, played by David Denman who you may know as Roy from The Office, and son Brandon, played by relative newcomer Jackson A. Dunn. The film opens with Tori and Kyle as they are about to make another attempt at conceiving a child. Their efforts are disrupted by an enormous bang, the house rattles and we are suddenly transported to the present day.

Tori finds a baby in the wood

Tori finds a baby in the woods and apparently thinks nothing of it

Fast forward a decade or so and it becomes apparent that Tori and Kyle now have a child and life seems pretty rosy. They live on a large farm and their child, Brandon, spends his time helping out his dad, playing hide and seek with his mum, and excelling at school at the cost of a little street cred. It’s a lovely little, super saccharine, slice of Americana and is in stark contrast to what happens later on in the movie.

As time progresses, we see a few hints that Brandon may be a little less than popular at school. He is teased in class and seems to be a bit of a loner. He develops a crush on a girl who shows him a little attention and, along with that, he starts to develop a bit of, what seems to be, pre-teenage angst. Tori finds her son sleep walking, in the night, attempting to break into a locked part of the barn, apparently possessed by some subliminal force. These incidents continue to escalate to the point where Brandon begins to hear voices calling to him in an unusual language. The more he hears the voices, the more aggressive Brandon becomes and that’s when everything changes.

A different kind of superhero movie

I have to be honest, I am not the biggest fan of superhero movies. In fact, I will go out of my way to avoid them wherever possible. I find the idea of a “superhero turned villain” story quite interesting, however. After all, the bad guys are always the most interesting characters, right? 

Brandon Breyer is Brightburn

Brandon Breyer is not your conventional Superhero

Brightburn taps into the “Superhero gone bad” idea in much the same way that Chronicle did but without the good guy superheroes to act as a counter balance. Brightburn is about the emergence of a villain that has purely bad intentions.

A true horror movie

People who go into this movie expecting a sugar coated, comic book, depiction of a Superhero gone bad may be shocked. Brightburn is as much a horror as it is a Superhero movie. In fact, at times, Brightburn borders on being almost slasher like. It is extremely gory, it is tense, and the kills are up there with something out of the Saw series.

It’s not just the kills that give away Brightburn’s horror leanings. The tension in many of the scenes resembles a Nightmare on Elm Street, or other similar retro slasher, movie with Brandon Breyer proving to be a capable, unstoppable, killer. His impressive lack of empathy genuinely has you questioning what he will do next and to whom. It brought back memories of “We Need to Talk About Kevin” although I would rather spend my last moments with Brandon as Kevin is an annoying asshole.

Brandon and Kyle have some comical father to son chats

Brandon and Kyle have some comical father to son chats.. And sometimes Brandon chews forks

Brandon is seemingly unstoppable and there is apparently no counter to his malevolence. He is an alien from another planet and something that earth is evidently not prepared for. You would typically expect him to have some form of weakness; a type of Kryptonite if you will, and he does. Brightburn, however, is not afraid to stay away from the cookie cutter elements that usually plague this type of horror movie and it may surprise you with the direction it takes at key moments.

Sounds good so far..

It does, but Brightburn, as a movie, is far from perfect. As a simple horror movie with a science fiction based theme, some serious slasher elements, a different kind of villain, and tons of gore; Brightburn is bags of fun. As a movie there are elements that are severely lacking. The writing of Brian and Mark Gunn can really leave you wanting.

Character development is a particular area of weakness. Brandon goes from being a lovable kid without, seemingly, a bad bone in his body to being the very epitome of evil pretty much overnight. The things that happen to him are not really sufficient reason for him taking out his anger on the world in such a way. If he is just like this by design then a little more elaborating would have gone a long way to helping us understand the character. We never really get into Brandon’s head, we are just observers of his actions. A lot more character development would have been very welcome.

Brightburn (Dunceville)

Brightburn’s characters are very one dimensional. Relationships are barely expanded upon and characters are essentially set up like pins purely to be knocked down by our pre-pubescent, red eyed, bowling ball. You don’t care about the characters and that impacts the overall weight and significance of the events. Some of the reactions of the residents of Brightburn are just ridiculous, as well. Characters come across as stupid and, in some instances, blind to what is going on. Couple this with some of Brandon’s actions making little to no sense and you have a pretty confused narrative. Was Brightburn built downwind of a nuclear testing site? Everyone seems a little simple.

Brandon and his dad driving

Brandon and Kyle’s relationship is never properly expanded on

I feel as though there were a fair few scenes left on the cutting room floor that probably expanded on things a lot. Everything is very loosely expanded on. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 2 hour long director’s cut at some point in the future (this obviously never happened). I would definitely be interested in watching a version that goes into a little more detail on the events.

Acting and Cinematography

Cinematography was pretty good, nothing spectacular. There were some nice night-time shots in the barn. I felt as though some of the weird post production effects were unnecessary, though. Things flying at the screen and what not, it looked pretty bad and reminded me of a mid 2000s 3D movie.

Acting was good for the most part. Elizabeth Banks is always great and it makes a change to see her in a leading role. She always seems to be a co-star despite having the presence and unique looks to be a leading lady in Hollywood. She was very believable as a loving mother and wife that just wanted the best for her family.

Elizabeth Banks in Brightburn

Elizabeth Banks is excellent as always

Jackson A. Dunn was really good as Brandon. This is the type of role that often goes to kids who are just naturally a bit strange or quirky. “Better Watch Out’s” Levi Miller is a pretty good example of this, as is Ezra Miller in “We Need to Talk About Kevin”. Jackson A. Dunn actually just seems like a normal kid who is acting and he does a great job. I really loved the way he portrayed a lack of empathy and he had some excellent facial expressions when his mood switched in certain scenes.

Should You Watch Brightburn?

Brightburn is an odd one. Critics are seemingly hating it, some audiences find it to be pretty average, and user reviews on IMDB are raving about it. I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle of all that noise. It’s easy to recommend on one hand because people love Superhero movies and this is a totally different spin on the Superhero formula. On the other hand, it’s not a particularly great movie. It’s a fun movie, definitely, but a lot of what it does, it does pretty poorly.

As a horror movie, it works well, has some great kills and tons of gore. It is lacking in plot and character development but it is a fun watch and an easy way to kill 90 minutes. As a Sci-Fi movie it is decidedly average with little to recommend. It never explores any of the science fiction elements and makes no attempt to expand on that part of the story. Brightburn is a slightly above average horror movie with some awesome kills, tons of gore, and an interesting antagonist.. God helps us when all the sequels start hitting. I shudder to think about where this series will go.

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