Ask yourself if the plot of Brightburn sounds familiar. The film starts in 2006, Brightburn, Kansas, where a farm couple — Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman) — is struggling to conceive a child. Miraculously, a spaceship falls from the sky. When the pair explore the crash site, they find a baby boy, seemingly from another planet. Taking it as a sign from above, the two adopt the young one, naming him Brandon and hide the spaceship.
I am sure most of you are humming John William’s Superman theme song by now.
The film fast forwards. Now, Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) is 12, and like many children of that age, suffers from some angst and is just trying to fit in. Again, just like Kal-El aka Clark Kent aka Superman. Here, he discovers he is gaining superpowers after he manages to chew a fork with his teeth and puts a hand in a lawnmower without getting hurt.
And this is when the narrative takes flight. Brightburn deviates from the Superman story with some interesting questions. What if the powerful alien creature from another planet was unable to deal with his new powers? What if, instead of responding passively to bullying in school, he responded aggressively? What if, instead of having a kind, loving, and patient father such as Jonathan Kent, he had a father who reacted more humanly, and was afraid of him? What if he absorbed that fear? What if his mum’s love couldn’t keep him from dark temptations? And what if, instead of being sent to do good, he was sent to create havoc and be evil? Brightburn asks all of these questions.
There are so many interesting paths producers Mark Gunn and Brian Gunn could have taken with Brightburn. Instead, they turn it into a mindless slasher film
Until the first act, I found it fascinating. I’ve read plenty of Elseworlds Superman comics, but watching an evil Superman-style plot was still intriguing. Soon, Brandon begins hurting living beings and starts listening to the evil messages from his spaceship. And here is when Brightburn, after having flown towards the skies, takes a giant nosedive.
Sony Pictures’ marketing team would have you believe that James Gunn was the mastermind behind Brightburn, but that’s not entirely true. The brilliant director and writer of the Guardians of the Galaxy films merely co-produced Brightburn, most likely as a favour to the real masterminds behind the film, Mark Gunn and Brian Gunn. If you are interested, Mark is James’ cousin, while Brian is his brother.
There are so many interesting paths Mark and Brian could have taken with Brightburn. There were endless subtle, philosophical narrative threads available for them to explore. Instead, after a brilliant set up, they turned Brightburn into a mindless slasher film.
This isn’t a subversive scary superhero film like the clever marketing boys at Sony want you to believe. Instead, it is a mindless, gratuitous horror flick with a superhero flavour and some gruesome deaths. To make matters worse, it’s not very good horror either, with mediocre performances and boring scares.
With every horror movie trope on screen, I asked myself if Mark and Brian Gunn decided to deviate from what could have been an intelligent movie because they wanted to avoid getting sued by DC Comics for getting too close to an Elseworlds Superman story. Those questions were put to rest after I read an interview with them, where they proudly admitted that they deliberately made Brandon one-dimensional so audiences would hate him. Clearly, the duo wanted a low-brow horror film with a Superman premise. As it turns out, Mark and Brian Gunn were Brightburn’s kryptonite.
Rated R for horror, violence, bloody images, and language
Published in Dawn, ICON, June 2nd, 2019