REVIEW: BRIGHTBURN conjures up a new genre: the superhero sociopath slasher.


Director David Yarovesky directs this dark spin on Man of Steel from writers Brian & Mark Gunn that plays with the Superman myth in interesting ways but loses its way due to characterization by plot.

It’s not anything new in the world of comic books to subvert the established origins of canonical figures as fodder for intriguing “what if” storylines. Writer Mark Millar has made a whole career out of subversive takes on established heroes. From a world where what if Batman’s villains defeated all heroes and took over and became super criminals in Wanted, to what if Batman was a super-villain in Nemesis, the idea itself is not anything new under the sun. However, taking one of these notions and making a big screen horror is and writers Mark and Brian Gunn take the idea of what if Superman landed on Earth and became a Super Villain to ground in Brightburn to mixed effects.

In Brightburn, Kyle (The Office’s David Denman) and Tori Breyer (Elizabeth Banks) are a childless couple who after attempting to conceive for years are seemingly blessed with the arrival of a small visitor from another world; a child who lands on their Kansas farm in a rocket ship from a far away world. Sounds familiar, right? Well, as young Brandon Bryer (Jackson A. Dunn) reaches his 12th birthday, he starts to undergo changes, he gets snippy in his attitude, he starts looking at girls, and he is contacted by a ship that tells him the world is his. What’s a space-born tween to do? As his mother tells him these changes are due to his being special and a gift from another world, this seals off Brandon’s ties to humanity and as he doesn’t get his way, he starts to get a little superhero homicidal to exert his will, to the dismay of his friends and family alike.

In many ways, Brightburn is a riff on the classic Twilight Zone episode, It’s a Good Life, with the idea that a child given absolute power will be absolutely corrupted by it and everyone around him needs to cower in fear and ignorance less they face his wrath. That being said, up to the point where Brandon learns he is adopted, he seems a perfectly normal child. The change in personality and the dark setpieces for the murders he does as the sociopathic Brightburn tend to come out of left field, sans notebooks we see he keeps of his doodling a Korn-esque logo for himself and his name. These setpieces are cool and gory for the average horror fan, but for a child, they seem sadistic to the point of coming off like fatalities in Mortal Kombar. It doesn’t ring true of the character to this point and seems more driven by the need to make Brandon a superhero slasher by a certain point in the movie rather than have it happen organically.

That being said, Elizabeth Banks does a great job at creating a fully realized character in Tori, in many ways, this is her movie and the film really fails her when she becomes a glorified final girl. The film promises something of a subversive dark hero universe during its ending credits, which are fittingly set to Billie Eilish’s track, Bad Guy. While the film has some beautiful cinematography owing largely to the aesthetic set forth in the very Terence Malick-y look of Man of Steel, the film is kind of a paint by numbers slasher where the plot drives the characters. Brightburn shines as that sort of slasher porn, but fails at being something more given the crew involved. When the film telegraphs its plot early on by suggesting some predators have worker bees raise predators for them, it seems like a plot exposition you’re hoping it’ll subvert. Sadly, it doesn’t.