A visionary horror director turned into one of the most sought after superhero director, James Gunn (with gigs ranging from self-defining Slither and Super to Marvel’s space-misfits, Guardians of the Galaxy and further forward to DC’s second attempt to prolong the live of Suicide Squad), produced a visionary genre-bending superhero origin movie deep rooted into horror core in Brightburn. Directed by a little known horror director, David Yarovesky based on the screenplay written by James’ brother and cousin, Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn, this horror superhero story throws a very enticing premise: what if some kind of Superman figure was actually sent to Earth as an evil offspring as in The Omen?
The premise is actually the Superman‘s premise: a strange, extraterrestrial shuttle carrying a humanoid alien kid crash-landed in the vicinity of a childless couple’s ranch. The Breyers (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) decide to adopt and raise the child as their own, naming him Brandon (portrayed by Jackson A. Dunn, a familiar face? Probably yes, he’s making short appearance as little Scott Lang in Avengers: Endgame). Here’s where the twist begin. As Brandon grows older, he begins to realize that he’s different from other kids—he’s cognitively superior and physically unbruiseable. He also starts experiencing supernatural attraction to the space shuttle that carried him to Earth. That’s where Brandon realizes his super-humane power; that also is the moment where we realize that puberty, teen temper tantrum and super-humane power are not always the good idea.
The first half of Brightburn is like a verbatim adaptation of Superman story. Brian and Mark Gunn’s screenplay seems to make deliberate similarities and callbacks to the Supes’ story only to take a sharp turn in the midst. Setting-wise and pace-wise, parts of Brightburn also reminds me to Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special which similarly tells the story of a coming-of-age super-human. However, this superhero origin story quickly escalates into a full-fledged Omen style horror when Brandon Bryer starts to catch teen temper tantrums—making audiences uncomfortable at all times. At this point, you can also find out how the screenplay also deliberately puts specific callbacks to Damien’s tantrums in The Omen.
Basically, the most original element in Brightburn is the premise. When it comes to elaboration, the whole story feels like a self-referential amalgamation of Superman and The Omen, which is way too serious to be a parody. First half of the movie is filled with narrative cliches from myriads of superhero origin story. The shift to a more somber tone is not always smooth. In no time, we’ve actually realized that the movie has switched on its cliche-ridden horror mode, which actually and effectively works.
Director David Yarovesky does not hold back when it comes to unleash the horror. While the screenplay, albeit the cliches, could emanate the uncomfortable feeling out of the audiences, it’s Yarovesky’s direction that pushes you into the edge of the seat. The horror spectacles are grotesque and over-the-top; but, they’re all effectively done. It’s sad that the promotion materials have revealed at least one of the most terrifying scenes in Brightburn—giving away at least 25% of the total fun. Even so, the movie’s jaw-dropping moment is still waiting to be unraveled.
While overstaying the welcome a bit too long with the cliches on both the horror and superhero elements, Brightburn still delivers its visionary premise of a superhero origin story gone south turning into a visceral horror. It has never been a smooth voyage, but it’s quite a working gamble.
Action, Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi Directed by: David Yarovesky Written by: Brian Gunn, Mark Gunn Starred by: Elizabeth Banks, Jackson A. Dunn, David Denman Runtime: 90 mins