The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - BRIGHTBURN | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - BRIGHTBURN

brightburn review
An alien child raised in secret by a smalltown American couple begins to turn malevolent.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: David Yarovesky

Starring: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn

brightburn dvd

In the origin story of Superman, the infant Kal-El is sent to Earth in a small craft by his parents just before their homeworld of Krypton is destroyed. The child crash lands in Smallville, a rural town in the American MidWest, where he is discovered and subsequently raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent. The Kents keep their 'adopted' child's true identity a secret while raising him to represent and reinforce the best values of humanity.

With Brightburn, director David Yarovesky and writers Brian and Mark Gunn pose the question of what might happen if the Kents failed to raise their boy to uphold the values we hold dear - what if Kal-El/Clark grew up to be a supervillain rather than a superhero? (Didn't Zack Snyder already do this with Man of Steel?)

brightburn review

The title refers to the small Kansas town where one night, Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman) - a couple struggling to have a child (we know this because the camera pans across a bookshelf filled with books on how to combat infertility - we're not talking subtle filmmaking here!) - are disturbed by a loud noise. Investigating, they find a small vessel has crashed in their backyard, containing a baby boy who appears for all the world to be human.

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We then cut to the present day. Like the Kents, the Breyers have raised their "gift from God", whom they have named Brandon (a nod perhaps to Brandon Routh, star of the under-rated Superman Returns?), as their own (is it really this easy to fake an adoption in the US?), and he's now a 12-year-old, struggling with a lot more than the onset of puberty. Brandon begins to develop extraordinary strength, is impervious to anything that might wound or kill a human, is able to fly and shoots fire from his eyes. A mysterious voice draws him to his spacecraft, hidden away by his parents in the basement of a barn, and compels him to "take the planet," beginning with enacting violence against the populace of Brightburn.

brightburn review

Essentially dispensing with its opening and middle acts, Brightburn jumps straight into what would normally serve as this sort of movie's climax. We never get to see Brandon's childhood or how his parents coped with raising a child they know not to be human. As a result, he's a cardboard villain, and Tori and Kyle are equally one-dimensional. We don't care about any of this trio, nor any of the random victims of Brandon's reign of terror, who are all thinly sketched fodder for his evil superpowers. Kyle in particular behaves in a manner that's simply impossible to swallow, going from adoring Dad to pointing a shotgun at his kid's head before he even has any real evidence that Brandon is responsible for the strange series of mishaps befalling his community.

There's an interesting movie to be made about a God-like alien who comes to Earth to do good only to decide humanity is something to be destroyed rather than saved (and who could blame them, given how we've treated our planet), but Brightburn can't decide if its villain is motivated by his dislike for the denizens of Earth or whether he was always destined to punish us. Is he reacting to the bullying he's suffered at the hands of those who mock his intelligence, or simply following the orders of whatever being sent him to Earth?

[ READ MORE: New Release Review - Oxygen ]

Watching Brightburn, with its under-developed characters and contradictory motivations, you get the sense that it began life as a much more interesting script that subsequently went through dozens of rewrites until the writers forgot what their original purpose was. This is most evident in the character of Caitlyn (Emmie Hunter), the one classmate of Brandon who appears to see some worth in the boy. "Don't worry," she reassures him, "smart guys rule the planet." (Has she seen our current world leaders???) In one scene we see Caitlyn working on a piece of school journalism, implying that she's meant to be this film's Lois Lane analogue, but when Brandon pays her a late night visit, hovering outside her second storey bedroom window, she reacts with horror, later calling him a "pervert" in school, at which point Brandon reacts by breaking her hand. Then she inexplicably disappears from the narrative. Surely Caitlyn should be the hero of this story, the one person who might be able to talk Brandon down from his demonic ledge?

brightburn review

Instead, Brightburn is a movie with no hero, and it plays as cynically as that idea suggests. It's one of the grimmest cinemagoing experiences I've had in quite a while, and none of the movies banned in the Video Nasties era are as mean-spirited and vile as this horrible, hollow and heartless product of mainstream American cinema. Given how we don't care for any of its characters, and are offered little insight into its antagonist's motivations, watching Brightburn is akin to watching a child pull the wings off butterflies for 90 minutes.

Brightburn is a movie about a 12-year-old sociopath, aimed at 12-year-old sociopaths, and it often feels like it was made by 12-year-old sociopaths. It's a film for those weirdos who fast forward through horror movies to get to the gore, and it's gross in a way even Eli Roth might balk at. It doesn't help that its set-pieces are monotonous, repeating the same generic "He's behind you - no, he's gone - no, he's behind you again!" technique over and over again until we give in mentally and shrug - "Oh go ahead, take the bloody planet, let's just get this over with."

Brightburn is on Netflix UK/ROI now.