Brightburn Review: Horror and heroes collide to create a freshly sinister superhero story
While the idea of Superman, or something like him, turning evil has been explored in stories like Injustice: Gods Among Us, Brightburn brings it to life with a story that’s full of a freshly horrifying atmosphere, strong performances, and brutal gore that, together, can’t really be found amongst other superhero stories.
The film follows Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Klye (David Denman) Breyer, a married couple whose prayers for a child are answered when a meteor crashes just outside of their yard carrying a baby. The two of them take care of the baby even though the baby is clearly not from Earth and attempt to give him a normal life. Once their son, Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn), grows older, he begins to develop super-human powers and is displaying behavior that’s downright evil. Though, Tori and Kyle still love him as their son, they realize that something more sinister is developing with Brandon and that their decision to keep Brandon’s alien past from him could lead to fatal consequences.
As said before, we seen Superman turn evil, but Brightburn offers a glimpse at what might happen if this turn happened earlier and the results are truly scary. Dunn puts in an incredibly fun creepy kid performance that’s daunting to see and director David Yarovesky does a great job giving him a truly terrifying presence. There’s a lot of quiet space used throughout the film that creates a strong amount of tension and allows Brandon to be a stalking presence with some isolated shots of him staring at his next victim from afar. There’s a great sequence at Brandon’s aunt’s house later in the film that feels straight out your favorite slasher flick and I loved seeing it combined with the world of superheroes.
Dunn’s performance also heightens Brandon’s villainous persona as his lack of remorse and acts of hiding his terrible deeds make him an incredibly fun villain to watch. I will say that his evil turn is a little under-developed and comes sort of out of nowhere as we see that he isn’t necessarily bad from the start. We see that Brandon really does have love for Tori and David and that it actually hurts him when he finds out they have been lying to him. However, the film doesn’t establish much of a motivation for Brandon to go full-blown evil and perhaps if the film delved into Brandon’s alien backstory, instead of keeping it wrapped in mystery, it would be easier to understand the strong grip it has on him.
The film’s other performances are solid, for the most part, with Banks and Denman being the strong standouts. Their chemistry is great, and they come off as caring parents that are concerned for their son’s well-being. They do fall into becoming tropes at times, especially Tori, as their disbelief that Brandon is capable of such evil deeds becomes tiresome and a little dumb after a while. Look, I understand that Tori truly loves Brandon and that it would be tough for anyone to see someone they love as evil, but it’s hard not to blame someone for seeing these moments of disbelief as a reoccurring trope.
Where Brightburn really shines brightest is with how it blends its superhero action with horror and gore creating a more realistic approach to Superman on Earth. The blood and gore don’t come off as unnecessary as Brandon’s strength and power would actually cause this kind of damage to people and isn’t something that’s acknowledged much in the genre. If Superman flies into a normal person, there’s no blood or real damage to that person, but Brightburn shows that that shouldn’t be the case as when Brandon flies into someone, later in the film, they literally explode into a shower of blood and flesh. This more realistic approach creates some haunting moments and offers a true blend of horror to the superhero genre that hasn’t been seen much.
Even Brandon’s costume is straight out of a slasher flick as his mask and cape are raggedy and are made more intimidating with Brandon’s red eyes, and the film’s finale builds towards the possibility of more stories to tell in the Brightburn world. While there’s no post-credit scene, there’s an incredibly fun credits sequence that opens up the door for darker stories to be told within the same universe that I wouldn’t mind seeing in the future. There’s even a fun cameo/connection to producer James Gunn’s super story Super that would be fun to see together if it ever happens.
We need more films like Brightburn that blend the concepts of superheroes with the style and atmosphere of other film genres, especially horror. Even when it struggles to defy genre tropes and fully develop its concept, it’s hard to deny how much fun the film is and how it uses its horror elements perfectly to create something fresh. Brightburn definitely shows that evil can its heroes too and knowing that more can be explored with this concept and this universe makes me excited to see more.