Film Reviews

Brightburn David Yarovesky

Rating - 6/10

“From producer James Gunn, visionary director of Guardians of the Galaxy,” comes Brightburn, or so the trailer proclaims. Visionary? Are they referring to James Gunn's Youtube series, PG Porn?

Brightburn was written by James Gunn's brothers, Mark and Brian, and co-produced by a mysterious Chinese sports mogul who once went by the name King Kenny. I bring up all these players because I'm trying to figure out who I should blame for what went wrong with Brightburn, which starts with amazing potential, but devolves in its second act. And by the third act... wait, there is no third act, but I'll get to that.

I can't blame the director, David Yarovesky, who you may remember for his role as “Goth Ravager” in Guardians of the Galaxy. Nor can I blame the actors, Roy from The Office, Badger from Breaking Bad, the Daily Bugle secretary from Spiderman, and I'm pretty sure that kid from Magnolia, who hasn't aged but has developed a Bradley Cooperish smugness. Should I blame King Kenny?

If you've seen the trailer, you know this is a subversion of the Superman story. Married farmers Tori and Kyle Breyer (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) struggle with, you guessed it, infertility. Luckily, they discover a baby in a crashed spaceship. Swaddling the baby in red cloth, they raise the boy (Jackson A. Dunn) as their own and name him Brandon (presumably after the milquetoast who once donned the cape and tights). The origin story plays out in much the same way as The Man of Steel's, except this kid, to our relief, is kind of annoying – I mean, one of the things that makes Superman so intolerable is his earnest morality, right? Even better, when Brandon first discovers his powers he does what any twelve-year-old would do: he throws tantrums, peeks in a girl's window at night, and crushes his crush's hand when she calls him a pervert for being a pervert. It feels refreshingly... human.

This escalating series of events is paired with Brandon's attraction to something beneath the barn, a place he's forbidden to go because it holds the space ship that brought him to earth. The UFO emits a red glow at night and beckons Brandon with a chorus of voices best described as demonic. At first his parents manage to keep the lad at bay, but it's not long before Brandon, in a trance and chanting like a singer from Enigma, breaks into the barn and discovers the ship.

This sequence is titillating because of the way it explicitly mirrors Superman's origin story, simultaneously rebuking the golly-gee ideology of the DC comics hero and providing the audience with a good deal of suspense as we question what will happen once this normal kid realizes the scope of his powers. It's such a promising concept—so rife with potential for complex, nuanced character development—that it's an absolute let down what happens next.

WARNING: Don't read the next couple paragraphs if you don't want the stupid part of the film spoiled. Okay, you're going to keep reading, good. After the aforementioned origin tale, Brightburn turns into a bland horror film. Not just any horror film, but a dumb horror film, the kind where a killer appears in one window, then is suddenly in a doorway. Or, they're in the street, standing menacingly, then they're gone, then they're right in front of you – BOO! Oh, I could go on, but you've seen this already in countless supernatural thrillers. What do they say? “With infinite power comes infinite boredom.” And who's this killer? Brandon, of course, who has gone from a believably pouty kid to evil incarnate in about three seconds.

I could endure the film's midsection, I thought. There's some delectable gore to enjoy involving an eyeball, and later a jawbone. And there's some clever imagery that subversively nods to Action Comics #1. I could endure the trite horror tropes and hang in there for act three, you know, when a complication will arise to make matters more interesting and lead us toward a conclusion that feels surprising, yet inevitable. But no. That was it. Act two keeps up with its act two-ing, and the film ends. In the meantime, Brandon keeps murdering.

Honestly, if this movie started as a dumb horror, I would've been content if not impressed by the acting and directing. In all seriousness, Yarovesky's visuals were eerie and the pacing of the action showed masterful restraint. If my expectations were set lower I would've forgiven Brightburn's reliance on well-worn clichés; I might've even tried ignoring the cringe inducing BBAAAHHHHM!!! bass notes that are in every trailer for the last five years and punctuated about a dozen scenes. But Brightburn pulled a bait and switch, starting with way too much promise, then shattered that trust. It's as though this guy, James Gunn, came up with a cool idea and handed it off to his brothers, who then tossed the concept around like a hot potato for five minutes before flinging it to the director. I blame them, Mark and Brian. This movie could have been special and the Gunns ruined it. Bring on the inevitable sequel.