Dir. by David Yarovesky
As an avid horror fan, both for mainstream larger budget horror and low-budget schlock films, I sometimes find myself flailing for enjoyment in the swarm of clichés the horror genre has generated. Even films that take a minutely fresh approach to a well-worn wheel are a respite.
In the advent of combining elements of two genres, “Brightburn” is a superhero horror film that contracts the concept of Superman, but on the other side of the coin. This leads me to my first initial problem with the movie, in that it functions with all of Superman’s character development tropes, except if they created a villainous character as a result. It should go without saying, then, that if you make Superman “evil,” then you can probably see the end of this movie coming from miles away.
The premise of “Brightburn” juxtaposes a young son who learns of the brainwashing his parents have committed to prevent him from learning that he’s an alien with superpowers. Over the course of awkward familial tensions, the son becomes rather disturbed, secretive, and often lashes out verbally at his parents. Not surprisingly, he kills a few people who end up getting on his nerves. After killing a waitress at a local diner, the son murders his uncle in one of the most brutal death scenes I’ve seen in a recent horror movie. Somewhere around here he dons the title (only known to himself) of Brightburn, which is the name of their small Kansas town (kids aren’t the most original, I guess). Eventually, Brightburn’s parents decide that their son is probably the cause for all the recent murders on the news happening in town. His father tries to shoot him on a hunting trip, but he’s pretty much impervious to bullets. Likewise, his mother fails to kill Brightburn with part of the spaceship hidden in their barn that he arrived in as a baby (this functions as his Kryptonite, basically). In his rage, he kills both his parents and the local police force, and the movie ends.
Despite partially developing a troubled character with staggering mental health problems, the movie left much to be desired in terms of writing a backstory and premise distant from Superman.
The cool death scenes (which were the only saving grace for me) cannot be the only thing holding a horror film up on its legs. If there were more at stake, and a greater chance for the characters to either reason with or defeat Brightburn, then the collapse of the plot under its inevitable weight wouldn’t make it so bland.
After seeing the initial trailers for “Brightburn,” I was intrigued by the idea of rehashing Superman in a darker light, but in the end, nothing feels new or fresh in any way. Even the coolest line of the movie, deciphered from his home alien language, “Take the World,” gets lost in the mix of a plot that had already been written decades ago. There isn’t a world to take with “Brightburn,” because there isn’t any meaning to take away.