Gratuitously violent and unpleasant, shock value alone fails to carry this horror hybrid.
“Brightburn” is loud, lurid, and unsophisticated. It’s the kind of blood-soaked schlock that a studio will push wide into cinemas in hopes of turning a one quick weekend buck. And for every “Fast Color” there’s numerous “Brightburns.” Released a couple months ago, director Julia Hart’s thoughtful, intelligent, and engaging science fiction film “Fast Color” is the right way to mount an original take on the superhero narrative. “Brightburn” just takes the genre and gives it a tired R-rated gloss.
When Tori and Kyle Breyer discover a baby in the wreckage of a spaceship that crashes near their farmhouse, they believe that their prayers have been answered. Because they want a child so badly, the Breyers thoughtlessly conceal the boy’s origin and take the baby in, telling the community that they have adopted. They name the strange addition to their family Brandon.
Ten years pass, and Brandon (now played by Jackson A. Dunn) is a quiet, nerdy 12 year-old. He has few friends, and we get two perfunctory scenes where his classmates give him grief. Screenwriters Brian and Mark Gunn have no interest in developing Brandon’s personality, other than making us peg him instantly as a psychopath. It’s the quiet ones, after all. And given the hurried pace of the movie, no redeeming qualities are instilled in the kid. The Gunns clearly want us to believe that an alien can’t benefit from the love of nurturing parents.
Therefore, with breakneck speed, Brandon becomes a murderous, lunatic extraterrestrial. He begins to kill people who have been nice to him in grisly ways. Much of the kills are played out for jump scares, as the 12 year-old’s powers enable him to fly, move with super speed, and shoot lasers from his eyes.
Ultimately, “Brightburn” devolves into a slasher film with superhero elements. And that might look good on paper, but the execution is laughably off. The film even dives fully into camp with an end title sequence featuring Michael Rooker playing an unhinged Alex Jones parody. I kid you not, as much as I like Rooker, this scene is completely out of left field altering the entire tone of the movie.
I get what the Gunns and director David Yarovesky are going for here. But the result is a one-dimensional splatter fest instead of something a little more complete like Josh Trank’s 2012 film “Chronicle.” The bad Superman idea was a good start, but “Brightburn” does nothing meaningful with it.