Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn) is turning 12, and you know what that means — it’s time for your alien heritage to start possessing you to draw creepy symbols of your initials, turn your eyes red, and murder anyone who ever reasonably tries to tell you you’re kind of a creep. Brightburn fully commits to evil Superman, and it’s all the better for it.
Written by Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn, and produced by James Gunn, the film might be predictable but that doesn’t take away from the ensuing fun. Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman) Breyer live on a small farm in Brightburn, Kansas, playing the role of the Kents in this iteration. After years of trying to have children, their prayers are answered when an alien spaceship crash lands on their farm, occupied by an infant child. After a short montage of Brandon growing up through home video, we meet him again on his 12th birthday, when puberty makes yet another strong case for the being worst part of adolescence.
Not much thought is put into why Brandon is taking a turn for the murderous and that’s because there isn’t much backstory to where he comes from. If he’s essentially Superman but evil, then is he still from Krypton? Brandon’s troubles start when his spaceship, locked away in the Breyer’s farm, starts calling out to him. It’s unclear whether or not Brandon is being possessed by the alien energy from the ship or if this is just who he is. It’s fair to say the film isn’t interested in explaining why this is all happening, though it seems to make a great case for the nature vs. nurture argument, with nature winning out. It only stumbles in that regard when it doesn’t delve into the alien mystery of it all.
Still, as far as horror superhero films go, Brightburn isn’t afraid to go there. There isn’t much room for sympathy toward Brandon. He gets bullied at school, but he suffers from a bad case of entitlement when it comes to the birthday presents he deserves and the girl he has a crush on. So when Brandon makes his official turn, it’s not surprising. What’s fun about it is watching him go along with the innocent child schtick right after he murders someone. Dunn nails the transitions, and his cold dead stare at anyone who’s found themselves in the role of victim in the next scene is chilling. There’s a certain amount of body horror here that seems a little hard to justify, but for the most part, it adds to the slightly ridiculous premise the film is working off of.
Brightburn‘s stakes are pretty low, keeping everything centralized to the farm and the town of Brightburn. It’s a super villain origin story, through and through. Mostly, this seems like an exercise in “what if?” Though, Michael Rooker makes an appearance at the end to suggest a new phase of superhero horror films, perhaps?