A while after seeing Man of Steel and making very clear my dislike for it one of my friends posed this question for me “Is it that this is a bad movie or just that this is a bad Superman movie?” Interesting question, could it be that I’d be easier on the movie if it wasn’t meant to represent my favorite character? Well it does have Supermans name in it and the filmmakers knew that, so either way no point dwelling too much on that. But now here is Brightburn which is clearly taking the concept of the Superman origin story but pushing it through a horror filter.
Taking the concept but not having it directly be the exact thing gives the creatives the freedom to twist, reinvent and add any kind of layer over it they wish. Creatively I’m sure that’s a great luxury and could absolutely lend itself to some good stuff. But lets stay focused, we see a kindly young couple of the Breyer’s, Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman), they have a farm and are very much in love and want to start a family, it just doesn’t seem to be in the cards for them, until one night they hear a loud crash outside and go to investigate, it leads them to the smoking crater, then cuts to years later and they are now parents of a young boy (any of this sounding familiar?).
The boy’s name is Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn), he’s a shy kid, that likes to draw and gets bullied at school. He’s not what you would call the most sociable, but seems gentle and nice, except for one night when he seems compelled to go into the barn and something underneath is calling him. He also realizes that he has super strength, invulnerability, can fly and laser eyes (know of anyone else with those powers?). Underneath the barn is the pod that he arrived in years ago and it seems to send a message into his head. From here on he knits himself a red mask that resembles a gas-mask, dawns a red cape embraces the use of his super abilities.
From here on it is a series of him talking down each person that annoys him in extremely brutal and quite frankly fetishized ways. Not just due to the fact that the murderer has superpowers but that they dwell on all the gory elements we are just left to watch a series of brutal murders with the aid of superpowers
Everyone here is a very good actor, they sell the moments of leisurely downtime and humor and excel when they need to be scared. When Brandon toys with them like a cat with a mouse they are so worried about their lives and it shows. I’ve said it before but in an action movie you can have someone face down an insane threat and look cool as a cucumber doing it, but in a horror movie we need to feel the fear and one way you do that is to cleary show that the characters themselves are afraid.
There is the old saying “All power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” but I prefer how Robert Caro put it “What I believe is always true about power is that it always reveals. When you have enough power to do what you always wanted to do, then you see what the guy always wanted to do.” But maybe this is adding too much, the point is that this movie doesn’t really have any of this in mind, is it that Brandon was always a psychopath? Did the message from his ship rewire his brain to make him perform these horrendous acts? I’m not sure and I’m also sure neither are the filmmakers. I just feel like they wanted to take the concept of a character that embodies optimism and hope and put their own, mean spirited bleak icing over it.
Ultimately this is a movie without a soul and means nothing. Is about a kid who just seems to be a bad seed and because he is of a species that has superpowers can inflict his sadistic tendencies upon helpless humans, or a case of a bad seed, or the corrupting ability of power? It says nothing about why someone would be like this, about the corrupting element of power or the redemptive or limits of parental love. It wants to take a concept about pure goodness and put it own, cynical, malicious spin on it and I have, frankly, no patience or appetite for it.