With such a large amount of superhero origin films out there, it’s tough for one actually feel different. However, Brightburn attempted just that. It turns a traditional superhero origin, particularly the familiar story of Superman, and completely turns it on it’s head by adding a horror twist while asking the question “What if Superman used his powers for evil instead of good?” Let’s take a look at whether Brightburn’s bold and interesting premise is enough for the movie to stick the landing. Be warned, as there are some light spoilers lurking ahead.
The horror aspect of the movie is done very well. Each scene where Brandon, our horror version of young Superman, is stalking his next victim is suspenseful and frightening. Because he has super powers, he’s an especially scary slasher. It makes one wonder how anyone could ever get away from him or stop him, which is such a scary thought. The mask that he dons, paired with his glowing red eyes, is creepy. Adding to the unsettling design of this unique horror villain is that he’s still a little boy. His size and little kid attire, along with the mask, make for a surprisingly scary image.
One of the trademarks of a lot of great horror movies are the gore effects, and Brightburn certainly delivers in that department. Brandon breaking a little girl’s arm, shattered glass penetrating a woman’s eyeball, and even a jaw dangling from a man’s face all look brutally brilliant and cringe-worthy. It causes one to see exactly what Brandon is capable of and feel what the victims feel.
The film builds up Brandon’s powers in the most successful and suspenseful of ways. We start seeing him discover his powers early in the movie, with him using his super strength to accidentally launch a lawn mower through the air, and then gradually gain curiosity and test out his powers more. He starts off small with just hurting someone’s hand or farm animals before going much bigger with his abilities. There is also some great build up with Brandon’s parents and other town members discover what Brandon is truly capable of and figure out how they are able to deal with it. It made the movie more suspenseful leading up to the film’s exciting finale.
The filmmakers found ways of making the viewer really care about the characters who Brandon hunts down. Whether it be a little girl, a member of his family, or the small town cops just looking to help others, you fear for these innocents. There are even one or two moments where it’s actually exciting to see the victim get their just desserts for being so cruel to others. Either way, the filmmakers were definitely successful with getting the viewer to feel emotionally invested in what happens to the characters.
Most of the special effects in Brightburn are great, which is important for a modern superhero (or villain in this case) movie since they’re used to showcase the characters’ powers. The vivid and realistic-looking special effects are surprising to see in such a low-budget movie. It’s a true accomplishment of the filmmakers to be able to have Brandon flying, buildings being destroyed, and cars being thrown on just a $6 million budget.
Some horror movies accomplish great psychological scares while others are more successful with gore. Brightburn finds itself among the horror movies that accomplish both. The gore effects look real and are sometimes hard to watch. However, it’s not just the gore making the audience jump or cringe like some other modern horror movies. Like stated above, Brandon is creepy. Plus, the idea of an unstoppable being that you could never run away from is terrifying. You can outrun Jason Vorhees or kill the Gremlins, but there’s no stopping Brandon Breyer.
The majority of the special effects used in the movie are incredible, but there are certain moments where they do look pretty lame. For instance, there is a scene where Brandon uses his eye beams to melt someone’s head (which sounds terrifying to think about). Both the eye beams and the head melting look so poorly done that they don’t look believable. Moments like this are especially noticeable since the other effects in the film look so good. That being said, it’s understandable since the budget was on the smaller side.
There’s no real development for any of the characters or advancement of story once Brandon realizes the true extent of his powers and goes on his killing spree. Sure, his mother finds out that it’s her baby boy who’s killing people and there’s a small tease of an idea of what could stop him, but it’s mostly just Brandon killing people and being completely unstoppable. It doesn’t lead anywhere. There’s no inner conflict for Brandon figuring out what he should do with his powers and not much of an attempt to do anything about him until the very end, which still goes nowhere.
We know that Brandon made it to Earth when he was a baby when a space pod crashed, similar to Superman, but that’s all we know about his origin. We don’t know why he was in the pod to begin with or what planet he is from. There are hints that the ship is somehow communicating with him, but there is no explanation as to how or what is really happening. Is the ship sentient? Is it somehow mind controlling him? Is his species using the shit to communicate or control Brandon? If any of these are the case, we never find out and we never know why. It’s not clear if Brandon wants to do good like he says to his mother, but is unable to because he is being controlled, or if he’s lying and wants to cause destruction. If the latter is true, then we never find out his motivation behind the chaos he causes. There’s no real attempt at explaining any of this, which leads to some confusion. We never know why the character is doing such terrible things. We just know that he is doing them. There are times when Brandon’s actions seem premeditated and other times when he acts like he is in a trance as if someone or something else is at the wheel. This lack of explanation leads to a lack of payoff toward the end of the movie.
What makes it worse is that this issue could have been cleared up with just one short scene. There’s a scene toward the film when Brandon’s mother is hiding out in the barn where they stored the crashed spaceship. She looks around and sees hundreds of those mysterious symbols (which also are not explained) written all over the walls. This would have been the perfect opportunity to extend the scene just enough to include some of that necessary explanation. Perhaps she bumps the ship and a hologram recording plays of adults of Brandon’s species explaining their intentions of sending the baby into space in the first place. About one extra minute of run-time in this scene could have cleared up a lot of questions and made the movie much better. It seems so obvious that it’s frustrating.
There are no post-credits scene in Brightburn, but there is a really interesting sequence that starts playing right as the credits begin to roll. A host of some sort of talk show or Internet vlog, played by Michael Rooker, is shouting about bringing the truth to the people regarding super beings. He shows footage of Brandon flying around causing chaos and destruction, and then mentions there being more while showing images of what appear to be evil versions of Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and some other heroes, similar to how Brandon is essentially an evil Superman. This would be a great way to open up the movie to have sequels or some sort of supervillain cinematic universe. If they follow up with this, it could allow them to give us those explanations that are missing from Brightburn.
Brightburn is produced by James Gunn (Director of Guardians of the Galaxy) and is written by his brother Mark and cousin Brian, making this movie a bit of a family affair. It makes some of the themes of family in the movie a little more interesting. I wonder if it was a coincidence or if someone got a job on the picture due to who they’re related to.
Brightburn is held back by a couple of glaring problems. The character of Brandon has no known motivation, which prevents any sense of growth or progression for him. There is no explanation as to how or why Brandon is able to do what he does, and it’s unclear if it’s his decision or if he’s being forced to do it all. As a result of all of this, there is not a whole lot of payoff for any of the characters.
However, Brightburn is still a lot of fun. It works well as a horror movie, and it gives the audience a very different take on a rather familiar story. It’s actually pretty exciting that a movie that does such a thing can exist. It’s suspenseful, well-directed, creepy, exciting, and has great horror and superhero effects for the most part. It may have its major flaws and is far from being as great as it could be, but it is fun and unique. I can see Brightburn becoming a cult classic in the future.