Movie Review: BRIGHTBURN (2019)

BRIGHTBURN is the latest film from director David Yarovesky (The Hive), written by Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn, and produced by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, Slither). The film poses the question of what would happen if, instead of a superhero becoming the hero he becomes something far worse. The film stars Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games, Slither), David Denman (The Gift), Jackson A. Dunn (Shameless), Meredith Hagner (Hits) and Matt Jones (Breaking Bad).

All Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman) want is to have a child. One night, a meteor falls from the sky near their farm and upon further investigation, they find a baby inside. Without thinking, they decide to adopt the young boy, naming him Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn), while putting the mysterious circumstances surrounding his arrival on the backburner. Fast forward 10+ years and we find a well-adjusted kid who has a close relationship with his parents and is excelling at school. Just as his 12th birthday hits, though, he begins to experience unexpected changes such as superhuman strength. Shortly after, Brandon begins exhibiting strange and disturbing signs that alarm his parents, making them question where Brandon is actually from and if he is far more sinister than they could have ever imagined.

Brightburn (Jackson A. Dunn) stars in Screen Gems’ BRIGHTBURN | Photo Courtesy of Boris Martin

Ask almost anyone if they love a superhero film, and more often than nought, the answer is yes. Between Marvel and the DCU, we have been inundated with superhero movies, and if you are like me, you’ve begun to get a bit burnt out. Now, let me just say that BRIGHTBURN isn’t associated with Marvel or DC though the premise has many similarities to Superman’s origin story. With that said, you should probably know I’m not a fan of Superman, however, the idea of this alien being becoming evil instead of good fascinated me from the moment I first heard about the film. Also, it’s important to understand that this film is a hard-R. This is NOT a kid’s movie and if you are a fan of superhero films but not gore than you might want to skip this one.

With all that out of the way, let’s get to the meat of the film. I can say with complete sincerity that BRIGHTBURN is the type of horror film I want in my life at all times. I never even thought of a subgenre that focused on superhero horror and now that I’ve finally experienced it, I want it pumped into my veins immediately. That’s not to say that the film is perfect, it’s far from it, but I believe that the writers truly have something special with the introduction of BRIGHTBURN. The film itself is a quick watch, tapping out at 90 minutes, and I think that’s one of the biggest issues I had. I would have liked the film to have been stretched out a little bit longer so that we, the audience, could see Brandon’s natural progression as he came into his powers. Also, learning the motives for why he picked evil over good could have been explored more. My takeaway was that it had to do with where he came from and the power within the meteor but I could easily see how someone would have a completely different viewpoint. Nevertheless, I think if the writers had been given the time to explore that aspect more in depth, it would have helped in giving a better understanding of Brandon’s motives.

As I mentioned above, this movie is not your typical superhero film. It’s incredibly gory to the point where I even had to look away. Though I’m not the biggest gore fiend out there, it was oddly refreshing to see such gritty violence when most superhero films shy away from it. To me, that was one of the main reasons I loved the film so much because it was messy and abrasive – there is no colorful bow to tie up this film in a neat little package and because of that, I left the screening with a giant grin on my face. If you’ve seen the red-band clip of the diner scene, you know what you have in store for you, and I wish I could say that is as bloody as it gets but no, it gets much, much worse. BRIGHTBURN is unapologetically violent to the point where it’s uncomfortable, and as a horror fan, that’s a feeling I haven’t felt in quite some time.

Tori Breyer (Elizabeth Banks) with Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn) in Screen Gems’ BRIGHTBURN | Photo Courtesy of Boris Martin

Lastly, I think it’s important to mention the cast. Not only was it great to see Elizabeth Banks return to the horror genre, especially considering she worked with James Gunn on Slither, but the cast as a whole did a tremendous job bringing the story to light. Jackson A. Dunn, who plays Brandon Breyer, blew me away with his performance, especially because it was such a dark and sinister role. At one point I even turned to my boyfriend and said, “We are not having kids”, to which my boyfriend responded with “You know this isn’t real, right?” Regardless, Brandon Breyer is up there as being one of the more terrifying kids featured in horror films as of late. The most interesting dynamic between characters, at least for me, took place between Brandon and his father Kyle, played by David Denman. Whether it was during their talk about sex, puberty, or hunting, the interaction between them always felt slightly strained, which was made even more so when Kyle begins to think there’s more going on with Brandon than just growing pains. David rides that fine line of capturing a character that’s both caring and terrified as he witnesses the terror that unfolds, knowing that there isn’t going to be a whole lot he can do to stop it.

In all, BRIGHTBURN is the superhero horror movie I never knew I needed. Though I wish the script had been finessed more, I think what the writers were trying to create is there, it just needed some fine-tuning. The ending hinted at the possibility of a sequel, or even a franchise in which we are introduced to other villains such as Brandon, and by God, I hope that comes to fruition. Even with a few missteps, I think most horror fans will still find a lot to enjoy with BRIGHTBURN. In the end, evil has found its place within the realm of horror superheroes and it goes by the name Brandon. Make sure to check out BRIGHTBURN when it’s released in theaters May 24, 2019.

Shannon McGrew
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