VOD film review: Brightburn
Bianca Garner | On 02, Nov 2019
Director: David Yarovesky
Cast: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson Dunn
Watch Brightburn online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
Dark and gritty takes on the comic book genre seem to be all the rage, what with the likes of James Mangold’s Logan, Todd Phillips’ Joker and HBO’s Watchmen. Judging by the trailer for David Yarovesky’s Brightburn, viewers were in for another dark superhero flick. It was full of menacing potential, presented to us as a horror rather than your standard comic book adaptation. However, the end product is a muddled piece that shifts tone so dramatically you almost get whiplash watching it.
The film takes place in the small Kansas town of Brightburn, where we are introduced to a married couple, Tori and Kyle Breyer, played by Elizabeth Banks and David Denman, who have spent years trying to conceive with no luck. Their prayers are answered when an alien spacecraft crashes in the nearby woods, with its sole passenger a baby boy. Like the Superman origin story, the child appears normal and they bring him up as Brandon (Jackson A Dunn). However, as Brandon enters puberty, he also starts to manifest special abilities.
Brandon’s behaviour begins to get more erratic as his new powers grow. He develops an unhealthy obsession with a fellow classmate Caitlyn (Emmie Hunter) and when her mother (Becky Wahlstrom) warns him to stay away, he decides to seek revenge. Soon, he’s using his newfound abilities to torment those around him, from his aunt (Meredith Hagner) and uncle (Matt Jones) to his own parents. It becomes apparent that Brandon might not have the best intentions, and that instead of being humanity’s saviour, he might be its biggest threat.
On paper, the premise sounds intriguing, and one can almost imagine how the pitch meeting went: “It’s Superman, but he’s an evil kid.” However, Brightburn is like a one-trick pony that has forgotten how to deliver its trick.
The film rushes to get from one plot point to the next and barely pauses to collect itself, forcing characters to reach conclusions that feel forced and unnatural. It initially struggles to find its footing, and it takes a long time for the action and main plot to begin, only for the film to whizz through its third act so none of the emotional beats land, like feeble punches that leave no lasting marks.
The film shifts from a comedic tone to a far more serious one too quickly; at certain points, the comedy is very jarring and out-of-place, coming across as more of a distraction than comic relief. It feels like it would have been more effective if it had been delivered as a straightforward horror movie.
Unlike Joker or Logan, Brightburn lacks any solid commentary on the issues plaguing our society as a whole. Of course, not all films must make statements, but Brightburn could have been a commentary on how the younger generations take responsibility for the faults of the previous generation, or the hyper-masculine traits that are forced upon young boys at an early age, or how we often overlook the warning signs of those with anti-social behaviour. Alas, this is not the case, and the weak narrative and script end up breaking the immersive atmosphere that Yaroversky tries so hard to create.
Overall, Brightburn works best when it embraces its dark side. The horror scenes are expertly crafted and the performances are strong – especially from Dunn and Banks, who are by far the best part of the film. However, Brightburn feels like such wasted potential and moves along so quickly that even The Flash would have a hard time keeping track of what’s happening.
Brightburn is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.