Brightburn (2019) [a film review by Frank Ochieng]

It would have been very interesting sitting inside a Hollywood movie studio board meeting when a pitch was made for a unique kind of horror film with super-hero overtones concerning an iconic Man of Steel as an intended reference:  ‘What if a young Clark Kent/future Superman arrived on Earth and decided to walk on the dark side and viciously undermine humanity?’

Look, in all fairness this is not a bad hypothetical premise as it does turn on its head the notion of cynically tampering with the goody two shoes convention of the super-hero genre. The right kind of execution for this cool, intriguing premise could have been a deviant treat to behold. However, the scattershot ‘Brightburn’ came along to dispel what could have been the very essence of what it wanted to set out to be in theory.

Director David Yarovesky (‘The Hive’) does have at his fingertips a vital ‘what if’ situation concerning what would happen if Superman ditched his heroics for mankind and embraced his evil-doing ways instead? Well, ‘Brightburn’ presents a cut-throat curiosity about demonising a comicbook cultural hero but fails to capitalise on this sizzling sentiment with its choppy overdose of baseless gore. The familiar storyline of an alien infant crashing on the planet Earth and taken in by this film’s version of the Kents via adoption is viably utilised until the continued story gloriously sticks out its middle finger on the Superman mythology, welcomed sacrilege for anyone willing to accept the all-American super-hero as a Caped Corruptor.

Unfortunately, Yarovesky and screenwriters Brian and Mark Gunn (‘Journey 2: The Mysterious Island’) botch the opportunity to construct this frenetic fable into something more palpable in terms of its challenging plot. Instead, ‘Brightburn’ transforms into another arbitrary slasher flick that aimlessly burns at both ends of a dime store candle. A rogue super-hero killing innocent folks is a hearty subversive pill to swallow and that would have been unapologetic in its creative confines. It is a shame that Yarovesky and the Gunns could not elaborate effectively on the twisted psychology behind a fallen hero’s sadistic urges other than to promote the slash-and-dash mentality.

“Don’t expect me to save the day…I will torment you useless earthlings until I make you decay!”

Tori and Kyle Bryer (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) are the ‘symbolic’ Kents that take in a seemingly normal baby they name Brandon. The youth’s upbringing has been uneventful but by the age of twelve Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) is now starting to exhibit some mighty changes concerning his body, particularly his inherited super-human strength and abilities. Unpredictably, Brandon is no junior-sized good Samaritan Clark Kent as he elects to now use his tremendous talents for deception and destruction. This is a bad combination in having an extremely petulant child armed with the super-duper capacity to commit severe damage to those that he perceives will cross him. Essentially, Brandon would be the result of a notorious product hatched between a giddy young Clark Kent getting brainwashed by ‘The Omen’. Yikes!

Again, the thought of a roguish Superman-to-be catering to his bloodthirsty leanings as a powerful, bombastic bad seed is naughtily rich and makes for a hauntingly curious horror showcase. Sadly, Yarovesky and the Gunns do not muster up the toxic meaningful mileage to milk this bizarre scenario for all it is worth. The shock value is merely reduced to having Brandon commit some random killing scenes…something that it overloads on without much consideration of the thematic tension. A super-hero gone a butchering baddie has some marquee value but ‘Brightburn’ opts to not seize the misguided moment and dig deep into this bruising brat’s diabolical motivations. This is an ambitious attempt to merge the underbelly of the super-hero craze with the ubiquitous broadness of horror but the whole misfire is as futile as Superman licking a Kryptonite postal stamp.

Alas, ‘Brightburn’ amounts to being an expansive generic sunburn whether this non-heroic terrible tyke shamelessly embraced his sinister sensationalism or not.


Screen Gems

1 hr. 31 mins.

Starring: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Matt Jones, Gregory Alan Williams and Meredith Hagner

Directed by: David Yarovesky

Written by: Brain Gunn and Mark Gunn

MPAA Rating: R

Genre: Horror/Science Fiction/Fantasy

Critic’s rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)

(c) Frank Ochieng (2019)

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