What if Clark Kent grew up to be evil? What if, instead of growing up to be this all powerful protector of Earth and humanity, he decided he wanted to take the world, cruelly toying with and destroying humanity in the process? That’s the premise behind Brightburn, a superhero horror movie from producer James Gunn, of Guardians of the Galaxy fame. Comic books are littered with plenty of ‘what if’ story-lines and alternate takes on popular superheroes, but up until now probably the most famous onscreen version of an evil Superman we’ve seen was in Superman III. And even then we only really got a drunk, unshaven, but still family friendly Superman, who just felt a bit mischievous and took to blowing out the Olympic torch for a bit of a laugh. Brightburn goes a lot darker than that, leaning heavily into horror with some wonderful, wince-inducing gory moments. If you’re looking for Dark Phoenix levels of dark – moody, crying in the corner, that kind of thing – then you’re going to be disappointed.
Brightburn begins by mirroring the origin story of Superman very closely – even the soundtrack reminded me of the music from 2013 movie Man of Steel on more than one occasion! Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Bryer (David Denman) are a happily married couple, living on a farm and longing for a child of their own. And then one night, a meteor crash lands out in the nearby woods, bringing them a baby boy who they adopt as their own. We see home movies of a normal baby/toddler growing up as part of a happy, loving family. And then we move forward 10 years to present day.
As an adolescent, Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) begins to experience some change in his life. His parents put it down to hormones, and attempt to give him the talk on girls and the facts of life, but it’s a lot more than that. The rock shaped vessel which carried Brandon to Earth as a baby has been locked away in the family barn all these years, hidden from Brandon, but has now started to glow red. At the same time, something within Brandon appears to have been activated, and a number of small but disturbing incidents that follow leave his parents extremely worried. They also realise that they’ve never actually seen Brandon bleed, or even hurt before. From there, the severity of these incidents increases greatly, and it becomes clear that there is definitely something very, very wrong with Brandon.
What I loved about Brightburn was the confined, low-key setting of it all. The action is restricted primarily to the town of Brightburn, never really expanding into the worldwide, CGI heavy destruction that plague other superhero movies. We have an incredibly relatable mother, who is out to love and protect her son until the bitter end, a father who becomes scared and horrified by everything that is unfolding, and then this powerful boy tearing the family apart – unpredictable and showing no sign of remorse or inner turmoil with regard to everything that is happening. Outside of that family unit, the action is all confined to a relatively small cast – the local police, extended family and some other kids from school, who we all follow throughout the movie. There’s a lot of character depth to be found in Brightburn, which greatly adds to its overall enjoyment.
As is the norm these days though, the trailer does give away the majority of Brandon’s targets and the location where he attacks them, meaning you kind of know what’s coming next for a lot of it. However, what the trailer doesn’t give away is the atmosphere and the eeriness that successfully builds to each of those shocking (and gory) moments, and there are still plenty of jump scares or shocking scenes to keep you on your toes throughout. It all builds to a climax which once again isn’t a CGI overload, relying on shock and horror to deliver it’s interesting conclusion. And, most importantly, it leaves the door open for what could be a very interesting sequel if released. Personally, I’m all up for that, and the direction that hints at, as I found Brightburn to be a very enjoyable and fresh take on the superhero genre.
Brightburn gets a general UK release on 19th June