By Jason Delgado
What do slasher icons like Jason and Dexter have in common besides being known on a first-name basis and having a penchant for using sharp objects? They’re anti-heroes for whom we root for, unlike 12-year old punk Brandon Breyer in Brightburn. Some old school parents might even say that Brandon needs a little discipline from Superman.
Brandon starts out in the film as a seemingly normal kid with loving parents who “adopted him” as a baby (later we find out that he crash landed onto their property in a spacecraft a la Superman). In class, he knows too much for his own good, and is mocked for it by a fellow student. It’s light ribbing though, nothing to the degree of the shaming in Carrie. The girl in school on whom he has a crush, Caitlyn, even offers Brandon some words of encouragement after a joke is made by someone else at Brandon’s expense. So on whom does he take his anger out later in the movie? The “bully” right? No, little Brandon decides to break Caitlyn’s hand with his super strength. Huh? The film does offer an excuse for it, but like the rest of the reasoning in this movie, it’s weak sauce.
What’s even more frustrating is how Brandon’s mom defends the little monster at every dark turn. Played by the talented Elizabeth Banks (yet poorly used in this movie), Brandon’s mom Tori is blind to the warning signs of having an evil son, while acting concerned about his behaviour, yet not enough to do anything about it. When Brandon lashes out about being a suspect in a character’s death and throws his own dad through a kitchen wall, whose side does Brandon’s mom take? Not her husband’s, that’s for sure. Why would Tori put all of her trust into a boy who has been acting strangely to say the least, throwing temper tantrums, and whom she knows is an alien? It’s bizzaro Superman world logic, where everything is the opposite of how it ought to be.
Characters in horror movies are usually punished for being morally “bad.” Fornication is a crime in these types of films, which is an apt allegory for our sometimes Puritan-like society, so frisky teenagers in the woods “deserve” to have their heads chopped off. In bizarro Brightburn world, characters are killed off or maimed for being good. It’s an odd choice, and one out of which I did not gain any enjoyment.
Is Brightburn a commentary on the sociological concern that parents are too easy on their kids these days? I doubt it. I’m probably just struggling to find a deeper meaning in the movie with not much else going on with the film. Brandon’s father does try to teach his son the error of his ways, but Brandon is simply too strong to listen. Does that mean that we’re empowering our children too much, as opposed to putting them in their place as kids? Let’s ask little Jimmy if he would like to leave the park now, instead of telling him that it’s time to go. Should we be giving kids trophies just for participation, instead of for winning? Maybe it’s somewhere in the middle? Children need encouragement and to be heard, but ultimately, they need to respect their parents (and others) too.
The minute that Brandon figures out that he has Superman-like powers early in the movie, all regard for everyone else goes right out of the window. Brandon also starts hearing voices in his head and takes up drawing strange things. Brightburn is clear where it stands on the nature vs. nurture argument, because the evil alien nature takes over so much that he doesn’t even stop to think about the values that his parents, family, friends and society have instilled in him over his 12 years of existence. Brandon wants what he wants, and he wants it now. I get that the filmmakers were going for the opposite of Superman, but it was overkill for me. Jason doesn’t say a word and in my opinion is ten times more likeable. Chucky is an evil doll, but as least he’s funny! Brandon’s true superpower is being an annoying brat.
Brightburn offers a few jump scares and some gore, but it isn’t truly scary (except for the glass in the eye scene, that creeped me out). This film is disappointing, especially given that it was billed as the first superhero/horror movie ever. Brightburn doesn’t succeed in either genre, let alone two at once. I had high hopes for this film, since it was produced by James Gunn of Guardians of the Galaxy directing fame. That was the rub, that it was produced by Gunn, instead of directed by Gunn. Brightburn lacked the originality and fun that Gunn usually brings to his films. The movie was written by Gunn’s brother, Brian, and his cousin, Mark, so it seems as if he was doing his family a solid. A good concept as the story may originally have been, the film would have been better served if Gunn had helped his family and the director, David Yarovesky, with the execution.
I give Brightburn two hot sauce packets out of five, because for all of my criticisms, it wasn’t a terrible film. I was along for the ride until the odd character choices left me shaking my head. If the filmmakers had decided to go more of the Carrie route, in order to give viewers a reason to root for the boy, and if they hadn’t ruined the Elizabeth Banks mother character by dumbing her down, I probably would have given a higher rating to Brightburn. Hopefully, some people enjoy the weak sauce more than I did. We’ll see if other filmmakers will take this concept and run further with it in the future.