Brightburn promises a ‘brand-new’ genre: superhero horror. Whether this is a new genre is up for debate, but it certainly asserts its claim boldly. The concept itself is fairly derivative — ‘Evil Superman’ is a rather glib but fair summation. A spaceship crash lands and its precious package, a young boy, is rescued and adopted by farmers. On his twelfth birthday he begins to experience his body changing — super strength, lightning speed, flight and even laser vision. So far, so familiar. But this time there is no Jor-El to guide him, nor any intention of being mankind’s saviour.
Despite the simple reworking of the Superman narrative, the film does a creditable job of tying together two classic genres – superhero and horror. Unfortunately, the film does at times get lost somewhere in the middle, never fully executing this interesting experiment.
There are some genuinely good horror moments, occasionally descending in to some rather cliché ones, too, but the tension builds nicely, albeit quickly, throughout. The ending is a rapid and excellent descent into total chaos. Here, the 90-minute runtime is a blessing and a curse: it successfully avoids dragging its feet and lagging, as many recent hero movies have done, but it comes at the cost of a more fulfilling narrative.
The themes of isolation are not explored to their full potential, although Jackson Dunn does excellently with the material he is given. He is especially strong in the earlier parts where Brandon is reckoning with powers beyond his control. Sadly, they abandon this exploration prematurely, and his descent to true evil comes at the cost of any compassion we felt for his character.
Elizabeth Banks is the stand-out performer, playing the disbelieving but concerned mother with great nous and compassion. David Denman aside, the rest of the cast are rarely given enough screen time to make much of an impact other than as victims, such is the pace of the film.
The lack of comic relief is also surprising, given its success in the rare instances it is employed. Involved here only as a producer, it is clear that James Gunn’s comedic talents are vastly superior to his brother and cousin, the writers Brian and Mark Gunn.
Aside from the early visuals being deliberately similar to the Snyder DC Superman films, the superhero clichés are well avoided. Thankfully, Superman comics or posters are nowhere to be seen. With its 15-rating, copious violence and gloomy themes, it feels a bit like a challenge to Snyder and co. at DC – if you want dark superhero films, here’s how to do it.
This is one of those rare instances in which I would actually like to see a director’s cut; the meat of the drama is blazed over with great speed, feeling as though there are scenes which are missing from the final product which could have made this good film great.
The complete madness of the final sequence is the saving grace, ending on such a bleak note that the sheer boldness of it allows you to forgive the more rushed elements of the film.