6 / 10
Elizabeth Banks … Tori Breyer
Brightburn is the story of Superman, if Kal-El had been sent to exterminate Earth instead of thrive on it. It’s a great premise for a movie, “Superman but evil” and even better fodder for a horror spin on the material than a purely dramatic one. Unfortunately it’s not enough that the idea itself is good, since it doesn’t deliver much beyond that core idea, instead playing it safe instead of breaking down walls (though it does this literally).
Elizabeth Banks and David Denman are good in the pseudo-Ma and Pa Kent roles, providing the type of grounded feel required for this high-concept hybrid. Plenty of moments in the film feel like they could pass for a Superman story because of their understanding and willingness to fight for their son. Brandon Breyer, aka Murder Superman, is played on a razor’s edge by actor Jackson A. Dunn. He has the sinister glare and turn expected from a killer kid movie antagonist, but also maintains the steady balance of the mask he wears to blend in and the pure curiosity of a child (or rather, a predator). Throughout the movie it’s conceivable he was playing the young version of an already cast hero (Fun fact, he did in Avengers: Infinity War, playing a young Scott Lang).
One of the best things about Brightburn is the homely feel of the entire world. This place is lived in, and decidedly…normal. Routine. Average. It’s a place your grandma might live, and its root in that space is why you end up buying that a spaceship dropped off a tiny-flying Jason Voorhees. Nothing extraordinary could happen here, so that’s why it must, and why it works with Superman’s story too.
But those descriptors of the world of Brightburn (Normal. Routine. Average.) aren’t limited to the setting, they find themselves stuck into the plot and beats of the narrative itself. It’s expected to a certain degree that a film playing off our familiarity with the Superman story would follow certain beats, but it doesn’t often flip the script any further on those moments, and especially not the horror elements. The first part of the film plays like how you expect both an Evil Kid and a superhero movie to go. Kid finds out his powers, he does things he shouldn’t with them, his parents see the warning signs and one of them doesn’t want to believe. Seen it, only this time he has a cape.
Though Brightburn seldom strays too far from the expected, there are moments where a unique sensibility on the story takes hold. The best of these is Brandon being drawn back to the craft that brought him to Earth, which is a pure nightmare moment from both his perspective and his mother’s. This is where the real blend of the hero and horror shine in collaboration, a moment of tension and fear for both the character of our world and the one from another. Something to scare everyone, and an extraordinary sequence. It passes in favor of “kid flies through the house” style scares later, which are ineffective at much but being loud.
It’s still an entertaining time though! The idea itself is solid, and Yarovesky brings a visual style to it that milks the tension in each sequence for all its worth. Even as you know what’s going to play out, convinced you’ve seen it already, there’s still something keeping you watching. The audience might know what’s about to be behind that door, or what will happen if you try to outsmart the smartest kid on the planet, but just to be sure we have to keep watching.
The central thesis of Brightburn is that we think we know what’s going on here. By hitting a lot of the same beats as Superman stories, and playing out kind of the same at times, it lures us into a familiarity before hammering home the horror. Brightburn knows we’ve seen the superhero and horror movies of the world, and assumes this specific combo is new to us, and it would be if it didn’t just play follow the leader all the time with those two genres.
Brightburn is one of those rare movies that once the credits roll you say, “Yes, now the movie can begin. This is where the interesting parts happen.” However, that’s it. There’s a fun world set up here, but it’s playing the hits that we know, and we want to hear the new album.