An alien spacecraft crashes on Earth with a baby on board. Discovered by Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman), a childless couple living in Brightburn, USA, they raise the boy as their own. As Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) gets older, he discovers he has superhuman abilities. But despite his parents’ best efforts, he begins to show disturbing behaviour as he exploits his powers. ‘Brightburn’ flips the script on comic book origins to look at how a supervillain can come to be. Producer James Gunn is best known for his work on ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ 1 & 2, so he’s more than familiar with superhero storytelling and what makes it work. Writers Mark and Brian Gunn, James’ brother and cousin respectively, draw from comic book lore, to create an exciting setup.
What dictates the moral compass of a superior alien being, clearly physically and intellectually advanced than humans? Based on what we’ve seen so far in superhero origin films, that’s mostly attributed to upbringing. But Tori and Kyle Breyer aren’t bad parents. They do their best to provide Brandon with a loving and caring environment. It just seems there’s little room for compassion in Brandon’s alien genetic makeup, and once his powers are triggered by puberty, his true nature is unleashed. Director David Yarovesky then takes Brandon’s abilities to the nth degree and allows him to wreak havoc. There’s proof of concept, backed up by decent performances, especially by Elizabeth Banks who is great as a mother battling with the knowledge that her adopted son could be pure evil.
But its execution leaves us wanting more. Sure, there are ample jump scares and gore to justify being a horror flick. Sadly, it also chooses to be predictable in that department, telegraphing most of its shocks. The rest of the cast is mostly expendable, and their characters are treated as such, often making questionable choices for the sake of pushing the story to the next alarming visual. The screenplay takes off on that path, causing narrative mayhem along the way. The film often takes itself too seriously, and one wonders if a more accomplished director, perhaps James Gunn himself, could flesh out deeper character revelations warranted by such a premise, with dark humour thrown in for good measure. ‘Brightburn’ proves there’s more to the superhero genre if seen from a different perspective but does little else.