Brightburn’s concept is a breath of fresh air among the bombardment of formulaic superhero movie after superhero movie that’s been found in theaters over the past 10 years. What if a superman like being that fell from space and who was taken in and raised by an unassuming couple, gave into their most violent urges rather than fighting for the righteous causes of justice and hope? Unfortunately, Brightburn squanders the potential of being an interesting take on aspects of the superhero genre we have not yet seen, and turns it into a senselessly violent and empty experience.
Elizabeth Banks and David Denman star as Tori and Kyle Breyer, the unsuspecting couple whose prayers of conceiving a child together have gone unanswered. Their prayers are seemingly answered one evening when a crash in the woods close to their residence is revealed to be some sort of alien aircraft with a child inside. We’re shown home video footage of a loving family - the boy found in the woods is now named Brandon, and his father wants him to grow up to be a farmer just like him. This footage serves as a tired method of character development and covering events between the discovery of Brandon and when the rest of the movie takes place.
Flash forward 10 years and we find Brandon not paying attention in class, instead his attention is consumed by scribbling what looks like a crucified frog in his notebook. His teacher, as they often do in the most telegraphed moments, notices he is not paying attention and calls on him, asking what the difference between bees and wasps are. Brandon correctly answers her query, stating that bees are pollinators while wasps are predators, unsatisfied, he takes his answer a step further by adding that certain species of wasps are unable to build nests so they must attack and steal nests from other winged creatures. This trite allusion, that only the most pseudo of intellectuals would find satiating, is the only hint the film ever lends to its most interesting question; where does Brandon come from and what might his motives be?
Brightburn’s script is a mind-numbing exercise in platitudes and fraught symbolism. Tori and Kyle Breyer’s most notable character traits are that they rattle off cliches often reserved for jokes about cliches at an incessant rate, and they are both naive to an alarming degree. Plot developments happen in a frustrating fashion and events struggle to achieve any sense of importance. For instance, in the films only (albeit unintentional) comical moment, Brandon discovers he has super strength, and can’t be harmed by things that would cause catastrophic injury to others while doing his afternoon chores.
The plot, script, and lack of any meaningful inspection of the ideas and concepts that are likely to have been the draw for audiences to see Brightburn would normally combine to make a bad film. But Brightburn is more than just a bad film, it is a deeply troubling film. The ability to tastefully depict violence in film is earned through smart story-telling, sympathetic characters, or a wacky over-the-top tone that borders on comical. Brightburn does none of these things, yet still unleashes a barrage of gruesome scene after gruesome scene. In all of these scenes the violence is carried out by Brandon, a child, and the carnage left behind is comprised of only innocent victims. I can only imagine it was the filmmakers hopes that film-goers would excuse such depraved displays and still feel compassion for Brandon, chalking up his actions as being a byproduct of the emotional whirlwind that is puberty and the revelation that he is from another planet. While this explanation altogether is very weak on its own, it escaped the filmmakers that they themselves had blocked this flimsy route to compassion from being reached when they imbued Brandon’s character with dangerous traits of toxic masculinity and beliefs that are shared with violent hate groups.
It’s hard to pinpoint redeemable qualities when the entire film is burdened with so many greatly defined flaws. The few bright spots I can note are David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, and Matt Jones performances. Jackson A. Dunn is effective with his performance of Brandon, which doesn’t require much since the character shows minimal emotion throughout the entire film. David Denman tries his hardest to bring some life to his character, Kyle Breyer, even with the script having him being nothing more than the culmination of a thousand awkward dad conversations. Matt Jones is great in his all-too-short five minutes of screen time as Brandon’s uncle, Noah, who sees right through Brandon’s facade of being an innocent pre-teen.
I wish I could end this review by simply saying Brightburn’s lazy character archetypes, fumblingly empty script, and failure to follow up on any of its most intriguing ideas are the reasons why it fails so miserably. But that doesn’t feel like enough. Today I planned on carrying out my first ever double feature at a cinema, and to come home and publish reviews for both. I was excited, with the cinema as my oyster and this site my sword. But what should have been a brisk 90 minute film shattered this dream. Brightburn ruined these plans when it assaulted my sensibilities, trying to pass garbage that should only be found in the minds of incels and alt-right sympathizers as a quality film. And for that it can fuck right off.