Unless you have been living under a rock, the origin story of Superman is well known, even to those who have never picked up a comic or watched one the films. A baby is sent to earth, their home planet facing imminent destruction. Crashing in a corn field in mid west America the baby is secretly adopted by a childless couple living in a quiet town. As the boy grows so does his difference, and as puberty begins the boys superhuman powers begin to grow with him. Lightening fast speed, laser vision, unparalleled strength and invulnerability topped with off with flight.
In the Superman universe these skills and abilities, back by two caring adoptive parents, are a force for good, eventually leading to the adult blue and red adorned hero.
Brightburn cleverly takes this origin story of power, alienation, coming of age and destiny, subverting it into a tale of corrupted power, destruction and alien intent to own the planet that has supported you. This is a coming of age story that places power into the hands of an alien who is following his prime directive. His own emotional maturity and morality not yet developed, despite a caring and supportive childhood. Weaving key facets of the classic Superman coming of age journey into a more mainstream horror narrative.
The premise is not only highly creative, but should have delivered a film that plays with the darkness of the coming of age genre, alongside sci-fi horror. Exploring the destructive forces of power in the hands of a young teenager who’s identity is not what it once seemed. Unfortunately Brightburn struggles to make this a reality, with key themes that should have been front and centre often feeling bi-passed in favour of a quick running time. From coming of age to emotional insecurity, isolation and the parental cover up of Brandons true origins. Brightburn never allows time to fully explore the journey from child to teenage god. Creating a jump from innocence to evil that is too quick, and lacks the build up necessary to allow solid character development and audience connection.
However, Brightburn also owes a huge amount to The Omen 1976 and Omen II 1978, and interestingly its here were the film truly works. Director, David Yarovesky, and the screenwriters, Mark Gunn and Brian Gunn, effectively exploring the classic Omen premise of an adopted child’s true nature and the horrific interface of parental enlightenment.
Brightburns best scenes centre on Tori and Kyle, Brandons loving and increasingly alarmed parents (Banks and Denman) as they slowly realise that the child they have loved unconditionally, may harbour darker thoughts and actions. A clear echo of the parental realisation of Thorns in the Omen 1976, even down to the eventual conclusions of his adoptive father.
This brings us to the boy at the heart of the film Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn). Less Clark Kent and more Damien, Jackson A Dunn puts an impressive performance, linking the onset of bodily change and volatile emotions to the realisation of complete power, with a beautifully nuanced performance, that is full of horror.
Brightburn also manages to the hit the spot in its delivery of mainstream horror. Particularly when exploring the raging anger, yet calm calculating control of Brandon in removing those he deems as standing in the way of his superiority. Once again echoing The Omen trilogy in construct and delivery.
While Brightburn never quite manages to deliver the subversion of the Superman origin story it promised, it does deliver a well crafted horror that has moments of pure genius in delivery. Dovetailing themes from The Omen into the comic book world, creating its own unique visual construct. If given the opportunity this is a film that could create its own universe, and despite mixed reviews, it could be an interesting universe to visit again.