BRIGHTBURN

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: David Yarovesky

Stars: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A Dunn, Matt Jones, Emma Hunter, Becky Wahlstrom, Meredith Hagner, Gregory Allen Williams.

Jackson A. Dunn in Brightburn (2019)

A mix of superhero movie, sci-fi and horror, Brightburn cleverly inverts the Superman myth. The film takes the familiar elements of the Superman story and inverts them, giving the material a more cynical and darker edge. Make no mistake this is fairly bleak stuff at times, with a downbeat ending.

A spacecraft crashes to earth, landing near the farm of Tori (Elizabeth Banks, from Pitch Perfect, etc) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman, from the US version of The Office, etc), a childless couple. Inside the craft is a baby boy. The couple take the child in and raise him as their own son. They name him Brandon. For a few years everything seems fine and Brandon is a normal, happy and bright child with an artistic bent.

But when Brandon (played by Jackson A Dunn, from Avengers: Endgame) turns 12, Tori and Kyle begin to notice some changes in his behaviour. Brandon himself discovers that he has certain powers – superstrength, heat vision, an ability to fly. But rather than use his powers to protect the world he harnesses his powers to exact petty revenge on those who offend him. His victims include fellow classmate Caitlyn (Emma Hunter), on whom he develops a crush, but she thinks he is creepy and disturbing; her mother Erica (Becky Wahlstrom) who works as a waitress at a local diner, and even his uncle Noah (Matt Jones). Brandon even draws disturbingly graphic images in his sketchbook and hears weird voices in his head. Slowly Tori and Kyle acknowledge that there is something wrong with their son. Indeed, in one scene, Kyle attempts to shoot Brandon during a hunting trip.

Brightburn has been produced by James Gunn, better known as the director of Guardians Of The Galaxy,etc, and is something of a family affair because the script has been written by his brother Brian and cousin Mark. Gunn began his career as a director of low budget horror films, and Brightburn marks something of a return to his roots. Here he has ceded the directorial reins to David Yarovesky, a former editor whose only other feature as director is 2014’s The Hive. Yarovesky does not shy away from some of the gorier elements of the story and there is an unusually high level of gore for a superhero movie. There is one wince-inducing scene in which an eye is pierced with a glass shard that will unsettle the more squeamish.

The film also deals with some universal themes like the outsider struggling to fit in, adolescent angst, family, parental responsibility, sexuality, small town fears.

Performances from the cast are good, with Banks and Denman solid as Brandon’s somewhat naïve and increasingly desperate parents. Dunn is very good as the antihero of the piece and brings an intensity that suits the role. Michael Rooker, a regular in Gunn’s films, contributes a brief cameo in a post credits sequence; he plays The Big T, a conspiracy theory buff who uses his Youtube channel to opine the mysterious events that have plagued the town of Brightburn, and he believes the government is trying to cover up some sinister secrets about alien visitors from another planet.

For those who have found the recent spate of superhero movies a bit overwhelming, Brightburn comes across as something a bit different. It is a bleak and dark and downbeat version of Superman myth that somehow seems to fit the more cynical ethos of our modern world in which superhero cross over to the dark side. Or a cinematic universe in which Marvel kills off some of its most iconic characters. And at least it offers something a bit different in the genre.

★★★

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