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 James Gunn and his twisted take on the superhero genre – Brightburn. Armed with a bevy of superhero experience, what can we expect from the incredibly creative James Gunn?
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 of its kind. This is obviously not accurate as 2012’s Chronicle 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.
We caught an advanced screening of Brightburn a couple of days ago which is allowing me to write this review. You can find details of how we got access to the advanced screening below; it’s something you can take advantage of and is definitely worth it for cinema fans.
Brightburn still hasn’t actually had its official UK cinema release, as of this writing. It’s rather annoying how long we are being made to wait for certain movies. It makes running a horror movie review site a little awkward as it’s impossible to match timing with the USA without hitting slightly illicit sites for inferior copies of the movies. We prefer to wait and get the full cinema experience so we sat on our hands for this one. Horror is almost always better in the cinema so it was worth the wait. The advanced screening was packed out so I imagine Brightburn will be quite popular.
What would happen if a child from another planet landed on earth, found out he had super powers, and decided to use said powers for evil? Brightburn is here to answer that question.
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. It’s made apparent that this is an ongoing effort and, so far, they have been unsuccessful. Their efforts are disrupted by an enormous bang, the house rattles and we are suddenly transported to the present day.
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. He starts to snap at his parents and appears to have an unhealthy interest in anatomy. After a short while, Brandon realises that he has super powers; he is impervious to pain, has super strength, and can fly. From this point on, everything changes for Brandon and the lives of the people around him are impacted forever.
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? That’s why we are all looking forward to the Joker based movie coming out later this year (2019).
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.
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.
I was actually quite shocked at just how graphic some of the scenes are. I really don’t want to go into too much detail for risk of spoiling some of the kills but if you are not a fan of graphic injury detail, you probably want to turn away at a few moments. One scene that is depicted slightly less graphically in the trailer sees Brandon breaking a young girl’s hand in some extremely intricate detail. It’s fantastic for gore fans and stomach churning for those of you with a less robust constitution. It’s hard not to laugh in shock at some of it and there were some audible gasps in the cinema screen.
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 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.
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, as a place, is pretty underdeveloped and hugely generic, as are most of the characters. The only character with any development, other than Brandon, is his mum Tori. Some characters, such as Brandon’s dad, could have really used a little more depth. There is one particular scene later on in the movie where you will have difficulty understanding the mentality of Kyle purely because we have very little insight into how he feels.
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.
I feel as though there were a fair few scenes left on the cutting room floor that probably expanded on things a lot. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 2 hour long director’s cut at some point in the future. I would definitely be interested in watching a version that goes into a little more detail on the events.
Cinematography was pretty good, nothing spectacular. There were some nice nighttime 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.
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.
Everyone else is pretty much window dressing with no particularly noteworthy performances. Matt Jones, as Brandon’s uncle Noah, does have one hilarious scene that had most of the people in the cinema screen cracking up so props to him for that. Sound production is fine, the mixing is pretty good and it is never difficult to hear the voices. This really isn’t a jump scare horror so no need for a major disparity between high and low volume levels.
I guess this is an aside from the actual review but this is something that sort of bothered me when watching Brightburn. I am not sure whether we are supposed to know, at the beginning of the film, where Brandon came from? The trailer makes it very clear but the movie itself presents things in a sort of ambiguous manner for at least the first third of its length.
Maybe Brandon was adopted, maybe his appearance was connected to the explosion at the beginning of the movie, maybe he was kidnapped? Obviously things become clear later on in the movie but, at first, there is no obvious explanation. It seems as though the trailer gave away important plot points that were perhaps supposed to be revealed in the movie itself?
Trailers seem to be doing this a lot, as of late. I am not sure whether that is a good thing and I can’t help but wonder what Brandon’s origin reveal would have been like if I hadn’t seen the trailer. Obviously you would likely guess that it had something to do with the explosion at the start but the reveal almost seemed like an unnecessary bit of exposition given the trailer. The origin could have been expedited and that time could have been devoted to some much needed character development for Brandon.
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.
In short, if you ever wondered what Superman would have been like had he been a bloodthirsty 12 year old, you will likely enjoy this. If you love gore and don't care about plot development or characters, you will likely enjoy this. If you are looking for a complex science fiction movie with a superhero leaning, I don't know what to say. Is that even a filled niche? Let's put it this way, Brightburn isn't it.
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.