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KAL-HELL! Superman meets The Omen in Brightburn

I’m sure all comic book fans have entertained the question, "what if Superman went bad?".

Brandon Breyers in his superhero mask with glowing red eyes.

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There’s a moment within Superman’s story, where things could go have gone either way. When he discovered his powers for the first time, what if he had determined that human life is nothing and that his place is that of a conqueror and not a saviour?

Obviously the catalyst for keeping Supes on the strait and narrow is his good hometown upbringing thanks to Jonathan and Martha Kent. But, as they say, “it takes a village” and what if that village wasn’t somewhere the kid felt particularly welcome?

Welcome to Brightburn! 

Who made it?

Produced by James Gunn of Guardians of the Galaxy fame. Written by his brother Brian and his cousin Mark and directed by David Yarovesky, who is probably best known for The Hive, a movie I found almost unwatchable because it felt like horror dosed up on Ritalin.

Brightburn thankfully is a lot better, better story, better execution, better everything. James Gunn being fired from Guardians of the Galaxy by Disney last year certainly plays heavily into the production’s favour and it’s refreshing to see him sidestep the big budget blockbuster and go back to his roots here.

What’s it about?

The story focuses on Tory and Kyle Bryer, a hard working couple who run a farm near the town of Brightburn in Kansas. They desperately want to have a child and have been working on it—for a while judging by all the fertility and baby making literature we see in the opening scene—but things aren’t really happening for them. One night their house is shook by a huge noise and they discover a meteorite on their property that turns out to be a spaceship with a little baby inside. They look upon the incident and some kind of miracle, name the kid Brandon, cook up an adoption story and raise him as if he was their own.

How Warner Brothers and DC comics didn’t immediately launch legal proceedings when they found out about this is beyond me.

Fast forward 12 years and Brandon starts going through changes as puberty hits with a few added bonuses. He gets hair on his balls and he can burn things with his eyes, his voice starts breaking and he can fly at supersonic speed etc. Curfews and chores be damned! It’s pretty hard to ground a 12 year old who can throw a bus.

Who’s in it?

It’s a quirky and pretty simple premise but the cast are what make this movie really great. Jackson A Dunn is good as Brandon Bryer, the alien kid with a chip on his shoulder, but Elizabeth Banks and David Denman are outstanding as his parents. It is within his adopted mother and father that the true horror of the story lies ad there are some really powerful scenes with them. They are so convincing as this couple who have given their all to raise a child that they completely adore, who is actually a monster in every sense of the word. Banks doubles down on that drama as the mother who so desperately wanted a child, got way more than what she had bargained for with Brandon but still has this kind of unconditional love, even in the face of everything that is going on.

Who will like it?

A large chunk of reviewers have panned Brightburn, and I think they’re looking at it the wrong way.

You are really going to be disappointed if you go into this movie thinking you’re in for any kind of superhero or comic book origin film because Brightburn is horror all the way. When it picks up the pace it’s got all the ingredients of a good slasher movie with that little hero twist on the top.

The special effects are great and the gore is confronting and unnerving, just the way I like it. For anyone who’s seen the red band trailer where the lady pulls the shard of glass out of her eye, there’s plenty more where that came from! The cinematography is great too, although there’s a few cliches like the old ‘running though the laundry on the clothesline trick’ we’ve seen a bazillion times before. The soundtrack by Timothy Williams helps build on the delightfully dark atmosphere they’ve created and I really liked the costume they used for Brandon too.

The only problem it had (and I’m not even sure it is an actual problem) was some elements felt rushed and there were things they could show more of, or let the audience know more about. In hindsight thou—we’re so used to being handed these user-tested films on a silver platter—it’s refreshing not to be subjected to excessive exposition and have the creators assume those watching are smart enough to keep up.

The verdict

They made this movie for $7 million which is an incredible achievement. It looks like something way bigger and that’s the perfect antidote to the big budget blockbuster.

Brighburn is part Superman, part The Omen and all fun. It’s the misfit kid from a narrow-minded country town full of reviewers or so called ‘experts’, only realising its full potential when it comes out from under their noses, gets out into the big wide world and finds its people. And here we are.

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