We all know the origin story of Superman: a childless couple on a farm in rural America find a crashed spaceship on their property with an alien baby that looks human. They take it upon themselves to raise this child as their own and keep its alien origin a secret. The alien child grows up to discover he has incredible powers and uses these powers to become the greatest hero the world has known. But what if that child was evil? What if that child had been a sociopath? How do you parent a killer child with the powers of a god? This hypothetical is what makes Brightburn so interesting, and is the rare movie that brilliantly delivers on its promise.
Directed by David Yarovesky (Guardians of the Galaxy: Inferno, The Hive), our story begins on a rural property in Brightburn, Kansas where Tori Bryer (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman) are enjoying a quiet evening, desperate to conceive a baby despite their ongoing fertility issues. Their evening of romance and baby-making is interrupted when a “meteor” from space crashes onto their property, its contents guaranteed to change their lives forever when they discover it’s actually a spaceship carrying a single passenger: a baby boy.
After a heartwarming montage showing the child’s early years with his adopted parents we move forward 10 years to when Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn) is 12-years-old. He is a top student, has a crush on a girl in his class and, like many smart kids at school, is picked on for being different. He lives in a very loving household with wonderful parents and life could not be better. But something deep inside him is changing. The spaceship he arrived in has been kept hidden in the barn and is now “calling” to him in his sleep.
Something inside Brandon is awakened and the once quiet country boy becomes more sinister and evil as he discovers his powers and true purpose for being on Earth. The once sleep and uneventful town of Brightburn becomes a place of horror as terrible things befall those who dare to cross this pubescent murderer with the powers of Superman.
What really sells this hybrid sci-fi/horror story is the amazing cast and the equally amazing performances they give. Elizabeth Banks really shines, giving an outstanding and powerful performance as a mother who loves her son with all her heart and doesn’t want to believe he’s a murderous monster. It’s heart-wrenching watching the transformation she goes through as someone who sees this child as a gift from above that answers her prayers of wanting a baby and then having to come to terms he needs to be stopped.
Denman is perfectly cast as Banks’ onscreen husband and they deliver wonderfully realistic and relatable moments worthy of any drama. His scenes with Banks are dramatic and emotional as their once-perfect life is turned upside down once Kyle realizes before Tori there’s something dangerously wrong with their son.
Director David Yarovesky has delivered a film that flawlessly blends drama, sci-fi, violence and pacing while focusing on the elements that really connect with people – relationships. Yes, “superhero” powers like flight, super strength, super speed and laser beams shooting from eyes are on display. Yes, there are some pretty brutal and horrific death scenes. But these are never the focus. All those supernatural horror moments are icing on a cake of solid drama that’s all about character development and character relationships, albeit characters with superpowers and facing horrific death.
Yarovesky is more concerned with showing the breakdown of this perfect family. He creates tension with creepy performances from Brandon as he slowly takes down those he sees as posing a threat to him. We watch the family dynamic fall apart as Brandon undergoes major personality changes and for many that’s where the true horror is. Not the fact that Brandon is killing people in very nasty ways – but watching parents lose what they love and are powerless to stop what is happening. How do you stop a pubescent killer with the powers of a god who no longer feels remorse or empathy?
Brightburn is a brilliant movie that easily gets my highest recommendation, especially for those craving something different in the crowded superhero genre. The premise of what an “evil” superhero would be like is incredibly interesting, especially in a film that isn’t afraid to take chances and really ‘go there’ with the concept. A word of warning: despite having a relatively mild body count compared to other horror films, those depicted are quite graphic and brutal, to the point I was squirming in my seat. But don’t let that stop you. Fantastic performances and an intriguing take on the Superman origin story makes this a worthwhile trip to your nearest cinema.