Friday 24 May 2019

Film Review: Brightburn

Superman who? Produced by James Gunn, Brightburn puts a horror tilt on the superhero origin story, but it fades fast and feels undercooked.

A baby who falls to Earth in a futuristic spaceship. A lonely mother and father who adopt the baby as their own. A young boy with inexplicable powers who grows up on a quiet Kansas farm. An invulnerable figure clad in a flowing red cape. If you think you've seen or heard of this story before, Brightburn urges you to think again.

Written by Mark and Brian Gunn and directed by David Yarovesky, Brightburn presents a skewed version of the classic Superman mythos without ever mentioning the Man of Tomorrow by name. It riffs on the imagery of Man of Steel and intends to do something new with it – but unfortunately falls short.

The film starts out in similar fashion to Superman, centred around a wholesome American family – Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Brayer (David Denman) and their son Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn). The latter has spent the first 10 years of his life believing himself to be a normal American child, oblivious to the fact that he can fly, shoot lasers from his eyes and is invulnerable to injury. When he learns the truth, Brandon's path diverges from that of Clark Kent. Using his newfound power, Brandon sets about exacting revenge on those who have 'wronged' him, from the bullies at school to his own parents.

On paper, Brightburn should work. It's a familiar story told in a new and interesting way, supplanting itself into a different genre. It's an original screenplay with interesting metatextual ideas for audiences to compare and contrast against. But its execution leaves a lot to be desired, and a lot of these interesting ideas are either half-baked or forgotten entirely, leaving Brightburn as a curious example of a time where less actually isn't more.

The first act of this superhero-horror races past like a speeding bullet. Tori and Kyle find Brandon's downed craft, and following a brief montage of home videos, we're caught up and in the present. Brandon's home life seems decent, if unremarkable. His time at school blighted by the occasional snide remark, but nothing that will leave lasting scars into adulthood. We're supposed to feel as though he's isolated or misunderstood, but we're barely settling into the first act when Brandon starts getting nightmares and mysterious drawn to the spaceship in the barn at night. 

Similarly, Tori and Kyle are lacking in depth; their struggle with infertility relegated to lingering shots on pregnancy books and a couple of comments about how they have "waited so long". This means Brandon's descent into villainy isn't framed as tragic or upsetting because we never come to care about him before he learns the truth. When he rounds on his parents, we struggle to care for them either - they aren't treated as heroes or victims, just hapless and hard to like.

Visually, the film looks glum and that vibe extends to the script too. It's a rather joyless affair, and the gore gets excessive after a while. The frights are frequent but repetitive – it's the same jump scare over and over again.

The Verdict: 4/10

A good concept that goes nowhere, Brightburn offers little more than the bare minimum.

Brightburn is in cinemas across Australia now.

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