What if a child from another world crash-landed on Earth, but instead of becoming a hero to mankind, he proved to be something far more sinister?
The concept is a great one. What if a Superman-like being landed on Earth but was, instead, evil? Mega-producer James Gunn, of Guardians of the Galaxy fame, lets loose a sinister tale for the super hero world that has some moments and takes full advantage of its big capital R rating but can’t seem to take flight entirely.
A scant bit of back story told in a cold open gives us all the info we need. Barren couple Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman) are interrupted mid-flirtation when a red, glowing something crash lands on their farm in Brightburn, Kansas. We then watch the blessing from above age and grow through photos, home videos, etc. and the story lands us right about the time that their mysterious child, Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) is about to turn 12. Things seem normal enough as the typical characters are set up. There’s Brandon’s crush Caitlyn (Emmie Hunter), her incredulous mother Erica (Becky Wahlstrom) and there is even a collection of garden variety bullies. Everything would be pretty normal if it weren’t for Brandon’s sudden habit of sleepwalking out to the barn at night, somehow drawn to a secret that his parents have hidden from him.
Well, spoiler alert, puberty sucks and, not soon after turning 12, Brandon begins to realize his otherworldly abilities. First it’s an encounter with a lawnmower. Then schoolyard scuffles. The script breathlessly hurdles us through Brandon’s self discovery so that we can get to the good stuff. The problem is that without the polish and nuance set up in these scenes, what happens next lacks what would make things far more believable.
Banks is great. She carries the emotional compass of the film as she moves from bright-eyed mom to beleaguered parent in realizing she may have fostered an evil unto the world. In the title role, Dunn is adequate in playing the good kid discovering his evil side but he is never really given a chance to have those sinister, “A-HA!”moments that would make us somehow connect with him during his transformation.
Yarovesky directs a collection of scenes that range from passable to effective. He revels in the horrific freedoms an R rating offers including realistically dropped f-bombs, kids either in danger or doing things kids have no business doing, and delightful moments of cringe-inducing graphic violence. You will probably never stand under a flickering fluorescent light again after seeing this movie.
Screenwriters Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn deliver a script that tends to scrap reason and timeline in favor of the plot that is solely focused on what is happening in the moment leaving more than a few plot holes in its wake. We should be invested but this can’t happen when we are rushed through the setup faster than a speeding bullet. Brightburn wants to revel in the all encompassing dread of a world where an unstoppable and volatile force lays siege to mankind. What it ends up offering is a fun highlights reel of what would have been some effective moments with the right foundation.
Fun? Yes. Brightburn is fun. Scary? If ominous stinger queues and heavy handed foreshadowing do it for you then, awesome. This is a superhero movie for the cynical. A predictable yet entertaining, gleefully bloody exploration of evil finding its way in the world. Oh and dig the Michael Rooker cameo too.