Written by: Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn
Directed by: David Yarovesky
Starring: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Matt Jones, Meredith Hagner, Gregory Alan Williams, Jennifer Holland, Steve Agree, Becky Wahlstrom & Christian Finlayson
What if Superman became a super villain rather than the hero he is today? Well that’s the intriguing premise of Mark and Brian Gunn’s Brightburn, a film that cleverly interweaves elements of the classic superhero tale with the gore and jump scares of horror – think a darker, alternate universe take on the Man of Steel. With the influx of superhero films dominating the box office over the past couple of years, does this latest offering successfully inject some new blood into the genre? Well, almost.
Directed by David Yarovesky, Brightburn centres on Tori and Kyle Breyer (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman), a couple who struggle to start their own family until an alien spaceship crash lands on their farm in the town of Brightburn, Kansas. Inside is a baby boy, a seemingly miraculous child that the two quickly adopt and raise as their own. But as soon as the boy celebrates his 12th birthday, things takes a sinister turn as the super smart Brandon (Jackson A Dunn), discovers his otherworldly powers. He starts hearing creepy voices telling him to “take the world” and soon enough he’s levitating, wearing a terrifying red mask and cape and leaving a gruesomely horrific scene in the chicken coop.
Yes it’s pretty much beat for beat the Superman origin story we’ve all seen before in Smallville and Man of Steel, but by subverting the moral choice of our supposed hero and not simply focusing on the generic fight between good versus evil, the film proves an intriguing subversion. Following in a similar vein to Snyder’s bleak vision of the DC universe in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Brightburn successfully immerses us in a brutal, grisly thriller. But underneath the shocking violence and tense cat and mouse chases, I feel like Yarovesky only really scratched the surface of Brandon’s origins and alternative World, with an overly simple narrative that could have been explored further.
Elizabeth Banks and David Denman shine as the emotional core of the film, portraying caring parents struggling with the most difficult moral quandary. They both have to face the fact that the child they lovingly raised as their own, might just be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Also a highlight is the terrifyingly unnerving turn from Jackson A. Dunn, who believingly brings to life the bullied social outcast. Interestingly there appears to be no real question of nature versus nurture in this film, as Brandon’s descent to super villainy appears to be a very quick (and somewhat under developed) progression. The rest of the cast aren’t given a whole lot to do, apart from a hilarious turn from Matt Jones in a jaw droppingly gruesome scene. Also look out for a fun cameo from Michael Rooker!
The film’s true strength however lies in the incredibly tense and atmospheric horror pieces; I’m a real wimp when it comes to this genre, but I was surprisingly gripped once Brandon donned the terrifying mask and cape. What resulted was a film chock full of jump scares and impressive gore – believe me you won’t look at an American diner in the same way again! The score composed by Timothy Williams was also a great addition; the main theme, consisting of three simple notes played on the piano, inspired a similar theme of hope as Hans Zimmer’s ‘Flight’ from Man of Steel. But what once began as an uplifting motif, quickly descended into chaos, as the strings and brass distort the theme with the percussion ramping up the tension.
Overall, Brightburn is a promising (and terrifying!) addition to the superhero genre, expanding upon the parallels of heroes and villains established in comics such as Venom, that’s also reminiscent of an Elseworlds issue. Make sure you stick around for the end-credits scene that teases an exciting World, which, presumably if the box office numbers are right, we see. In the meantime, if you enjoyed this, make sure you pick up some issues of the New 52 run featuring Ultraman and the Crime Syndicate!