Combining the superhero genre with a horror sensibility, Brightburn looked to be one of the more promising releases of the summer. The concept of getting to see a young Superman-like hero descend into evil and terrorize those around him was fresh and intriguing, with producer James Gunn’s presence giving hope. It’s with great disappointment that I report that Brightburn doesn’t only waste its cool concept, its lazy execution ranks it among the year’s worst films.
Brightburn follows Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman), a couple who stumble upon a crashed ship carrying life. That small boy grows up to be Brandon (Jackson Dunn), who possesses larger than life superpowers, but he begins to use those powers for evil rather than good.
Operating as an 85-minute exercise in horror sequences barely strung together by any sort of narrative or character progression, Brightburn can’t help but feel tired and uninspired long before the credits begin to roll.
This is a film that almost pains me to trash on because conceptually its exactly the type of movie audiences should celebrate. A mid-to-low budget superhero movie with an original story and characters is something really unique to our cinematic landscape. I credit the team involved for exploring fresh avenues of creation and hope other studios can experiment in similar ways.
Writers Brian and Mark Gunn may have conceived a great concept, but their script lacks the nuance or development to make it work. It’s clear the duo leaned heavily into the Superman mythos to tell Brandon’s story, with his powers and origin being identical to the Man of Steel. The problem with that is when you add very little to the character outside of that, the execution just feels derivative.
It’s almost criminal how thinly developed the story and character motivations of Brightburn end up being. Instead of a film that shows our protagonist slowly descend into villainy, Brandon makes the decision on a whim he seemingly can’t control, rendering any of the potential emotion that could come from that choice meaningless. The film tries to incorporate the character’s puberty and how that plays an effect on his changes, but both writers seem hesitant to connect the film to any deeper ideas throughout. Elizabeth Banks and David Denman give decent efforts in their respective roles, but they are written into one-note performances that give them little to do other than being concerned or fearful of Brandon’s newfound abilities.
The appeal of the premise should be getting to see young Brandon let loose as an evil Superman, but director David Yarovesky can’t capture that potential. While visually accomplished considering the budget, the sequences have an odd tonality problem of both trying to create a real sense of fear towards Brandon while glorifying the horror aspects to play up the entertainment value. There are brief flashes of visually impressive moments, but these sequences are rarely connected to purposeful storytelling.
Brightburn is a major disappointment from start to finish, sadly straddling its great concept to simplistic and underdeveloped execution choices. I hope the team involved can improve on their efforts because an original IP superhero like this is much-needed in our cinematic landscape.