Scary-ass kids are all but their own horror sub-genre. With an illustrious history from classics like The Omen to not-so-classics like The Boy, the little people are up there with clowns, ghosts and creepy cats as reasons to clench your butt cheeks in a dark cinema while awful things jump out of pitch black corners. It’s smack bang in the middle of his pack of murderous miscreants that Brightburn, David Yarovesky’s new film, sits.
Tori and Kyle Breyer, a young married couple living in Brightburn, Kansas, are trying to start a family. The couple’s fortunes appear to change for the better when a small spacecraft carrying a baby boy crash lands into the woods behind their farm. Naming the boy Brandon and deciding to raise him as their own, the Breyer couple have now become the Breyer family.
Twelve years later, Brandon is a regular nearly-teenager in school. That is until the ship that his adopted parents have been keeping locked in the barn comes to life and starts calling to the young boy. Almost instantly, Brandon discovers he isn’t like all the other kids, as he leaps from his window and is drawn to the pulsing light and strange noises from out on the farm. The usually polite and happy high-schooler soon learns that the changes happening to his body makes him more than just a little superior to everyone else; he’s not just a regular boy growing up, he is superhuman. Sadly, years of not really fitting in at school haven’t moulded his young mind into a force for good. Instead, he’s going to use his new found strength and powers to exact revenge on the population of Brightburn that wronged him. In any way, no matter how trivial.
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Never before has puberty been such a scary notion. To hell with those “you’ll have hair growing everywhere” lessons from your mum and dad and the penchant for checking out pornhub on your phone in the school toilets. Brightburn is the tale of what happens if that kid who keeps kicking cats and zapping ants with a microscope is given god-like powers with nothing and no one around to keep him in check. Equally, it shows – albeit in real extremes – just how powerless parents can be against a rebellious kid. Our on-screen parents Kyle and Tori (Logan Lucky’s David Denman and The Hunger Games’ Elizabeth Banks) do an admirable, if eventually futile, show at controlling Brandon (relative unknown Jackson A Dunn) as he proves to be a real handful.
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Brightburn does an excellent job of feeding us Brandon’s descent from lovely kid next door to cold-blooded killer without sacrificing the solid pacing director David Yarovesky (The Hive) is aiming for. Similarly, at no point does Brandon’s anti-hero’s journey feel rushed. The running time is barely into double digits when the film first hints that the young man might be more than meets the eye, and it’s all downhill for the residents of this tight knit community in Kansas from there. After a seemingly innocuous temper tantrum in a restaurant, Brandon soon finds his dark side. And folks, believe me when I say ”dark”; even getting his moment killing animals and performing a gruesome necropsy or two. It’s just a short hop from there to doing permanent physical damage to his classmates and murdering without even blinking an eye. Leaving his scratched and scrawled self-made calling card everywhere he goes, Brandon is working to solidify his position with some of the best horror movie killers.
Screenwriters Mark and Brian Gunn – cousin and brother respectively to the film’s producer James Gunn – have written a splendid little horror film in Brightburn. They have thrown everything they have into the ”what if Superman was bad” premise that they have come up with, thrown in the rebellious teenage kid angle and squeezed it into a tight ninety-minute film. Along with James Gunn on producing duty and Yarovesky in the director’s chair, it is an honest-to-goodness horror dream team. Superb kills and glorious amounts of gore and violence perfectly balance a dark atmosphere with an acute sense of dread: “Why is that window open?” – ”Is that just a flash of light, or is it a pair of demonic red eyes, or am I just seeing things?” – ”What is that moving in the shadows?”. That constant, creeping feeling means that jumps and scares are well telegraphed; dampening the fright factor a little, but it doesn’t take away from the film.
However, Brightburn is going to struggle a little once it hits screens. Marketing is not going to be a friend to this brilliant little film – this isn’t the film you expect ”from James Gunn. The visionary director of Guardians of the Galaxy”. It is, in fact, the film that audiences familiar with Gunn’s earlier work might come to expect. Putting aside the fact that the marketing ignores a very talented team of writers and filmmakers to score a few extra bums on seats the same week that Child’s Play and Toy Story 4 hits cinemas, Brightburn has an uphill battle getting out from under the oversimplified ”what if bad Superman” description that has preceded it since before Christmas. When in reality it’s so much more, including a tale of a soon-to-be-teenager struggling his way through a tough time- as in every kid’s life. This one just happens to do it with laser eyes and superhuman strength while wearing a mask that looks like his nan knitted a helmet to look like one of Prometheus’ engineer’s space suits.
Overall, Brightburn is excellent. A solid horror film with a fun premise and some delicious kills guaranteed to make you squirm. It maybe could have done with ending a couple of minutes earlier to land the perfect finish, but that’s a minor niggle in an otherwise thoroughly entertaining film.