Wednesday, August 07, 2019

"Brightburn": two-paragraph review

Produced by James Gunn ("Guardians of the Galaxy") and directed by David Yarovesky, 2019's "Brightburn" stars Jackson A. Dunn as Brandon Breyer, son of Kansas farming couple Kyle (David Denman) and Tori (Elizabeth Banks) Breyer. Branded "superhero horror" by the media, "Brightburn" is the story of a child who falls to Earth in a spaceship and, when he turns twelve, gets activated—so to speak—by the spaceship's alien technology. Flipping the Superman story on its head, Brandon goes full-on malefic, using his powers for evil. This initially means taking revenge against children and adults whom Brandon perceives as having wronged him, but as the alien ship's repeated message becomes clearer, Brandon's dark ambitions transform, in the end, into something more global in scale. Kyle and Tori had been unable to conceive (we're never told whether it's one or both parents who are infertile), so Brandon's cosmic arrival is a godsend. Once Brandon turns to the dark side, though, it's Kyle who catches on first while Tori remains in a state of maternal denial. People in the small town of Brightburn, Kansas, keep dying, and the circle slowly closes around the Breyer family.

"Brightburn," which is basically an "Omen"-style Antichrist horror movie that happens to use superhero tropes, takes the cheap route and fills much of its run time with jump scares. There are a couple graphic scenes of gore—one involving a shard of glass embedded in a woman's eye, and another involving a man who loses his jaw when he bites his SUV's steering wheel during a crash—but for the most part, the movie relies on shadows, suspense, and the aforementioned jump scares to keep things moving along. Much of this struck me as boilerplate, and the only truly interesting question for me was how Brandon would handle his mother once she finally overcame her denial and faced the truth that her son was a monster. "Brightburn" has been hailed by some as a clever turning-turtle of the superhero narrative, but the very concept of the superhero-gone-bad has been done a thousand times already. It didn't help matters that the conflict between suspicious Kyle and in-denial Tori felt like an extended version of the "It's Not About the Nail" viral video on YouTube, with Kyle understanding the essence of the problem and Tori insisting he's missing the point. I also think the story could have been clearer about why, exactly, Brandon was turning evil. There were moments when it seemed as if his bullying at school, and his mistreatment by certain adults, were a catalyst for the curdling of Brandon's soul, but all in all, it felt more as if Brandon's evil directly resulted from the alien ship's powering up and beaming a creepily cryptic activation signal into the boy's head. In the end, "Brightburn" is good to watch with a bunch of half-drunk friends, but I don't think it fully commits to its gonzo premise. Despite the occasional gore, the film pulls its punches, and I was left feeling a bit empty.

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