For those who may have been living under a Kryptonian rock, the story of Superman’s upbringing has mostly remained the same: after a meteor shower hurls a spaceship to Earth, a humble countryside couple, Jonathan and Martha Kent, is blessed with finding an alien boy whom they name Clark and raise as their own. However, in the highly anticipated superhero horror Brightburn, the awe-inspiring story of Superman is flipped on its head. This is not Jonathan and Martha Kent. This is not Clark Kent of Smallville, Kansas. He is Brandon Breyer from Brightburn. And he is not here to save the world. He is here to take it.
As films based in the DC Universe continue to generate polarized audiences with mixed critical responses, live action Marvel Comics films continue to churn out hit after hit. So, it should come as no surprise that it has taken talent from the Marvel camp to successfully produce a hard hitting, darker twist on one of DC’s most recognized franchises. Helping bring this sinister pseudo-Superman to life is writer/director of both Guardians of the Galaxy films, James Gunn, as producer while his brother, Mark, and his cousin, Brian Gunn penned the script.
Following source material with intended similarities and deviations, Brightburn opens with the humble countryside couple, Tori Breyer (Elizabeth Banks: Spider-Man, The Hunger Games franchise) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman: Power Rangers) in an intimate, not-so-wholesome moment. When their romance is interrupted by a spaceship crash-landing nearby, the film jumps to 10 years later taking us to present day. Now an adolescent coming up on his 12th birthday, Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn: Avengers: Endgame), the Breyer’s adopted son from the crashed spaceship, is going through changes presumed to be puberty. However, puberty doesn’t cause trance-like sleep walking, impenetrable skin, super-speed, the ability to fly or shoot laser beams from one’s eyes.
Slightly alarmed and confused by the changing of his body, Brandon hides his new development from his parents. In his portrayal of the Evil of Steel, the young actor gives Henry Cavill (Batman v Superman, Justice League) a run for his money. Despite unearthly abilities paired with a creepy lack of emotion, the young actor manages to evoke some empathy for his character who is trying to navigate his manifesting powers while questioning his purpose in life. However, his secret doesn’t stay hidden for long. And when an alarming truth is revealed in one pivotal moment, the story takes a hard left turn. Backed by outstanding performances from Banks and Denman, frighteningly tough decisions are made by their respective characters and an array of emotions are thrown together into a blender set to liquefy.
As a diehard fan of superheroes and horror, I have always been curious to see what would happen if Superman proved not to be a savior of mankind, but an unstoppable force of malevolent destruction. I know that, in a manner of speaking, we have seen this in the form of General Zod (Terence Stamp: Smallville series) and his fellow Kryptonian criminals in Superman II (1980, Christopher Reeve). And once again as Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow) in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987). However, the obvious difference is that Superman has always been there to prevail over these forces of evil. I believed the story would be much different if he proved to be a face of evil threatening Earth’s existence. As a nearly perfect inverted story of Superman’s upbringing, Brightburn did not disappoint in feeding this curiosity.
The horror element of Brightburn showcases a would-be hero who turns down a dark path from which there is no turning back. Though his character conveys a touch of empathy early in the film, Brandon shows signs of a serial killer in the making. When Tori and Kyle discover magazine cutouts of female supermodels, they shrug it off as a boy hitting sexual maturity. However, they’re thrown for a loop upon finding more magazine cutouts depicting dissected amphibians. Synonymous with early signs of sociopath behavior, further torturing and killing of animals is suggested as the Beyer’s begin to realize that something isn’t quite right with their adopted son.
Horror fanatics are sure to pick up on a chilling blend from their favorite genre, which they are sure to love. Brandon discovers his identify, throwing off a strong Omen vibe, while a slasher element is later added when Pseuperman stalks his chosen victims. This is brought together with a full frightening display of his deadly powers resulting in some startlingly brutal, graphic scenes. Also enhanced with jump scares spaced throughout the film, it’s safe to say that Brightburn delivers on numerous horror fronts. However, the most terrifying point in the film is when the cape donning monster is stripped of any goodness that may have existed in his dark, petrified heart.
A popular approach used by many mainstream horror films of today is the inclusion of comedy to break the tension. In most cases, I have typically found this to be one of the biggest downfalls of modern horror. Many times, it ends up being a cowering pitfall that results in misplaced humor detracting from story plot development. Too often, this diminishes the impact of the final climactic moment resulting in a mangled mess … and not in a good way. Thankfully, Brightburn avoids this perilous downfall. From its intriguing start to its unapologetic ending, no breaks are given from tension that builds to an earth shattering climax proving that evil has found its superhero.
Some comic book enthusiast may see Brightburn as an unspeakable perversion of an iconic superhero loved by so many. As a horror fan, I believe that is the point, but in all of the right ways. I love the story of Superman just as much as the next superhero fanatic. However, this film combines two niche genres for a fresh take on an old tale. While the film’s haunting conclusion may receive heavy criticism, I applaud director David Yarovesky and the Gunn trio for resisting the temptation of audience pandering.
Producing a shockingly unexpected payoff that pulls no punches, Brightburn is easily my favorite horror film of the year thus far and, personally, my number one choice for superhero horror to date. Not since Blade (1998, Wesley Snipes) have I seen such a phenomenal film in this limited subgenre. While there are no post-credit scenes, it is hinted that a future sequel may not be out of the question. By opening the possibility for a whole new superhero horror universe, I would gladly welcome a followup to this must see feature. See Brightburn now in theaters near you.