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BRIGHTBURN – ****

Directed by David Yarovesky.
Starring Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn. Horror, U.S., cert 15.

In UK cinemas from 20th June from Sony Pictures.

 

The origin of Superman through various What if scenarios have been accomplished numerous times in his original comic book medium. Mark Waid and artist Peter Krause explored the concept of a purely evil Superman analogue in their series Irredeemable, showing the consequences of a man with godlike powers being rejected by his childhood crush. An action that then leads on to the near genocide of the planet while Superman as a tyrannical leader also served as the basis for the popular Injustice video game.

 

This fascination with twisting one of the popular fictions most noble characters now materialises on screen in the form of Brightburn; a dark and nasty take on the genre that explores the imagery and psychology of superhero cinema and concentrates on issues such as toxic masculinity and flawed parenting as much as flying and super strength.

 

As soon as Brightburn starts the imagery is immediately familiar. Here is the farmstead of Clark Kent’s childhood with loving yet fearful surrogate parents unable to conceive a child of their own. Immortalised by Richard Donner’s seminal adaptation and Zack Snyder’s divisive re-imagining, director David Yarovesky, with writers Brian and Mark Gunn, quickly set the scene and hit the ground running when a strange glowing red object slams into the woods outside Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle’s (David Denman) run-down farm. Everyone here will know how the story usually plays out when they discover a baby whom they adopt willingly and name Brandon, keeping the secret of his arrival a secret from everyone including himself. The films brisk running time of 90 minutes wastes no time in getting to Brandon’s adolescence when he starts finding himself sleepwalking to the barn where something is locked underneath the floorboards and calling to him, unlocking his powers and true self to disturbing and gory effect.

 

Puberty often causes mood swings and see-sawing emotions, but here it is taken to the nth degree when Brandon dons a homemade cape and mask resembling that of an alien scarecrow. The films main problem is the breakneck speed with which Brandon embraces his dark side. No time is taken to consider for Brandon or the audience to mull over the possibilities of where his character could go. Instead, the script makes the decision to run full speed ahead with its super villain meets slasher flick concept. Surprisingly, and refreshingly, for such a big studio release the film is allowed to fully explore its themes to increasingly dark effect. Arriving at a time when the current superhero boom in cinema shows no signs of slowing down or releasing its hold on the box office at the same time as the Me-Too movement makes the headlines regularly, Brightburn could not arrive on screen in a timelier manner. Brandon’s superior attitude to women, whether it is his high school crush or his own mother, could be seen as an indictment of the patriarchy’s sense of entitlement and control over women and is given just as much screen time as his flying around and ocular laser blasting.

 

Such aspects seem to have proven a turn off so far judging by the films U.S. box office performance. Which is a shame as the films dark ambition not only here but in a possible follow up teased at the end of the film could have made for a fascinating franchise that does not seem afraid to explore such heady concepts. As straight-up genre fare, it definitely impresses. Yarovesky makes excellent use of the frame and manages a high degree of tension throughout. A dinner scene sets itself up with a wincingly nasty injury that will no doubt please the Fulci fans among us and a later scene with a car resolves itself in a gory and disturbingly lingering manner.

 

The performances from everyone involved impress with a variety of sympathetic and appealing characters and special mention should go to Jackson A. Dunn for his sneering dead-eyed characterisation. He makes more of an impression here than many of the Marvel or D.C. on screen villains.

 

Whether Brightburn finds its audience over time via streaming or not is up to the gods now. It is a refreshingly mean but fascinating antidote to the current glut of heroes and villains flooding our screens. Hopefully, it does as the prospect of the further misadventures of a super powered being breaking bad and being examined in a socio-political context makes for an enticing prospect.

 

Iain MacLeod

 

 

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FrightFest is the registered trade mark of London FrightFest Limited.
 © 2000 - 2018