Brightburn is playing in cinemas nationwide now (rating 15)
Unless you have been living under a rock, the origin story of Superman should be well known, even to those who have never picked up a comic book. The alien baby sent to earth after their home planet faced imminent destruction. Crashing into a cornfield in midwest America, where a childless couple secretly adopts them. But that’s just the start of the child’s journey; as he grows alongside his difference, puberty releasing a tsunami of superhuman powers. From lightning-fast speed to invulnerability and flight.
In the Superman universe, these superhuman skills and abilities are a force for good. Eventually leading to the adult blue and red hero, we have all come to know. But what if this journey had been different? filled with alienation, trauma and anger? Brightburn asks those very questions by subverting the classic Superman journey into a tale of corrupted power, destruction and alien conquest. By placing the classic coming of age tale into the hands of an alien tween following his prime directive. His own emotional maturity and morality not yet developed, despite a caring and supportive childhood. In turn, weaving key facets of the Superman journey into darker horror narrative.
Brightburn’s premise is not only highly creative but also deliciously dark. Exploring the destructive force of pre-teen emotions and vulnerability while dovetailing this with a classic horror template. However, Brightburn struggles to maximise the potential sitting behind the story. By dropping themes of childhood power, pre-teen angst and alienation in favour of a short runtime. Never allowing space to explore Brandon’s journey from child to teenage god: the transition from innocence to the evil far too quick and easy.
Aside from Superman, Brightburn owes a considerable amount to The Omen Trilogy, and it’s here where the movie excels. As Director, David Yarovesky, and the screenwriters, Mark Gunn and Brian Gunn, effectively explore the classic evil child premise. Where an adopted child’s true nature comes to light amidst a flurry of death and disaster. The child’s loving parents forced to face the horrific realisation that they have harboured a killer; the echo of the Thorn family journey clear.
That brings us to the boy at the heart of the Brightburn, Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn). Who is undoubtedly less Clark Kent and more Damien in both realisation and performance. Dunn skillfully linking the onset of bodily change and puberty with the emerging awareness of young Brandon’s power. Creating a character who manages to hit the spot in the delivery of mainstream horror. Particularly when exploring the interface between raging anger and calculating control.
However, despite its solid horror credentials, Brightburn never quite manages to deliver the subversion of the Superman story it promises. Mainly due to a runtime that never allows for the character development needed. But this aside it does offer a well-crafted horror that has moments of pure genius in delivery, dovetailing themes from The Omen into a unique comic book world. And given the opportunity, this is a world that could easily create its own dark universe.
Director: David Yarovesky