Review: ‘Brightburn’ (super sans hero)

A nihilistic take on the Big Blue Boy Scout.

Desperate to have a child, Tori and Kyle Breyer (Elizabeth Banks, David Denman) pray for a miracle. Nine years later in Brightburn, Kansas, straight-A student Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn) begins to feel what can only be described as “a calling,” triggering a series of events that not only reveal Brandon’s origins but suggest his true nature. As evidence mounts and the body count rises in a small farming community, forget nature versus nurture; the real question is, is there any hope of stopping what’s happening?

The idea is so simple, it’s a wonder Zack Snyder hadn’t thought of it: the famous origin of Superman as a villain in the making. Producer James Gunn (who may or may not have contributed to the writing of Brian and Mark Gunn’s script) wasn’t content with a mere villain but in a full-on horror film that pulls no punches. This creates an interesting setup: does this film excel by defying superhero tropes in a horror genre, or keep to the predictable by being a horror film embellished with comic book trappings?

In an age ruled by Marvel cinema with DC still playing catch-up, even Deadpool is graphic but not horror by default… just incidentally (read: deliberately) gratuitous. The brutality of Brightburn is built into the storyline from the beginning, so while true horror fans may suspect what’s coming, they may genuinely be surprised by how far it actually goes. This isn’t about deserved transgressions but perceived slights being aggressively acted upon and the victims toyed with in a maligned manner. Brightburn commits to its nihilism, embracing it like a liquefying corpse.

Similar to the “Ash vs. Evil Dead” series on Starz, just when you think it won’t, it goes there. Is it all blood and viscera? Thankfully no, but it comes pretty close. There is a palpable sense of impending doom, from the most likely victims to the least as each scab is peeled away and the bleeding starts. Elizabeth Banks plays Tori as the heart of the film, a mom that loves no matter what, pouring herself into a performance that diminishes the rest of the cast. Jackson Dunn goes from timid to disconnected quickly, and while he deserves credit for playing a super-powered child sociopath, the decision to focus chiefly on the adults may have done him a disservice as merely “the monster.”

Director David Yarovesky handled duties well enough, but the possibilities suggest future installments that may not play into direct sequels; are there other born-to-be-baddies out there? How exactly might an anthology of villains-in-the-making play out as a franchise? Only Truth Bomb knows for sure.

Brightburn is rated R for horror violence/bloody images, language, and a not-so glass jaw.

Three skull recommendation out of four

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