Studio: Sony Pictures
Release date: August 20th, 2019
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
Sometimes, Iíll see a movie and feel dismissive of it, only to find that I really canít completely dismiss it. Something about it lingers in my brain, forcing me to reconsider if maybe I got something wrong, especially when I find myself wanting to watch it again. So it is with Brightburn, a movie I thought had a clever hookóďwhat if Superman became evil?Ēóbut not much beyond that. Per my original review back in April, I felt like it missed an opportunity to be truly subversive and just settled for pandering towards the edgelord implications of the logline. Brightburn is basically a wicked splatter movie but not much else.
But so what, right? To be fair (or at least more fair than I was a few months ago) to Brightburn, there are hundreds of movies I have embraced for simply being wicked splatter movies and not much else. Hell, Iím probably not sitting here writing about horror movies in my spare time if not for those movies. As such, Iíd like to issue a formal, semi-apology to Brightburn for critiquing what it wasnít instead of engaging it more on its own terms. Iím still not prepared to say Iíve done a complete 180 on it or anything, but I will say itís pretty solid once you approach it as a souped-up slasher movie.
Of course, thereís the faintest sense that Brightburn is aspiring to be a little more beyond that. Itís also your typical evil kid movieóexcept, of course, the evil kid here is a super-powered alien from another planet whose mothership begins sending him subliminal signals as he hits puberty. Poor Brandon Breyerís (Jackson A. Dunn) parents (Elizabeth Banks & David Denman) are caught completely unaware by their adopted sonís sudden moodiness. And unlike most parents who didnít pluck their child out of a crashed alien spacecraft in their backyard, they canít just blame the hormones. Theyíre just stuck in an actual horror movie, not just the metaphorical horror movie that are adolescent teen boys.
And, again, I suppose thatís fine: Brightburn is perfectly content with being a splatter movie first and foremost, while the emotional, human aspects of the story linger about the edges, appearing more out of courtesy than as the filmís driving force. Yes, Banks is given a little bit to do as a mother coming to grips with the most horrifying realization imaginable about her child, but the movie barely feigns interest in it because itís much more interested in wringing as much carnage as it can out of its premise. It makes for an emptier movie, to be sure, and itís fair to criticize Brightburn on these grounds because it seemingly wants to be more at times.
Look no further than the climax, when Brandon insists to his mother that he wants to be good, an internal conflict thatís barely glimpsed anywhere else in the movie. Thereís a version of Brightburn where this beat hits like a motherfucker because the script genuinely invests in the emotional trauma of Brandon and his parents; this version, however, rings a little hollow in this regard, especially since it canít wait to rush to its glib, ďkewlĒ mid-credits sequence to set up a sequel that I would both watch in a heartbeat, even if I think it would likely be a wildly different movie from Brightburn.
But itís also in a rush to indulge the splatter movie potential of this premise, which Iíll obviously forgive, especially since itís pretty exceptional in this regard. Brightburn is downright nasty and features some gags involving punctured eyeballs and shattered jaws that are sure to become the filmís calling card. Kudos to everyone involved (including Sony) for not pulling any punches here: Iím sure a PG-13 version of Brightburn would have been more profitable at the box office, but Iím also sure itíd be much less interesting if it couldnít show off Brandonís mangled victims. Brightburn confirms an old adage in this genre: if nothing else, always have some disembodied corpses at your disposal for some cheap shocks.
Is that enough to earn a complete pass for Brightburn? No, not at allóin fact, I still feel like this film was uniquely positioned to provide more commentary other than ďwhat if Superman but eeeevil?Ē However, I must also concede that not every movie aspires to those kind of heights, and thatís okay. As Claire Holland put it in her conversation with Jon Abrams over at Daily Grindhouse, Brightburn is a throwback to popcorn horror movies that operates like a ďpure slasher, focused entirely on being scary and fun.Ē Considering this website has a section explicitly dedicated to such fare, I find it hard to argue with this logic. Maybe Brightburn isnít out here tackling the big questions; it is, however, fully prepared to slather buckets of blood right over those questions and pretend they donít even exist.
Following its theatrical release, Brightburn has bows on home video with a nice if not unremarkable Blu-ray release. The presentation is what you expect for a new release on this format: the picture is crisp, and this is the rare slasher movie that will give your surround system a nice workout. Extras are a little sparse: outside of a commentary with director David Yarovesky, DP Michael Dallatorre and costume designer Autumn Steed Yarovesky, thereís not a whole lot. The three featurettes are only about 12 minutes of standard EPK fluff with the cast and crew, including producer James Gunn who shows up for a quick (read: literally a minute long) vignette. Itís fine, but not exactly revelatory. In that respect, itís very much in keeping with Brightburn itself, which is a no-frills splatter movie once you move past its unique hook and realize itís really a movie where Clark Kent basically becomes Michael Myers instead of Superman. Maybe it doesn't reach its full potential, but, then again, neither have I, so who am I to judge?
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