Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Brightburn (2019)

Brandon Breyer isn't like twelve year olds his age. He has never been bruised or bled and his parents found him crashed in an alien spacecraft when he was a baby. Now, puberty hits him the same time as his powers start to develop in earnest and the spacecraft draws him closer with a message. Brandon has to decide how he will use his powers and if he goes with his human family who raised him or the people who sent him there.

Brightburn takes the familiar story of Superman, where in an alien boy is dropped on Earth with special powers, and makes it a story of horror and violence instead of heroism. Because the story is so familiar, the crash and discovery of the child are shown and then it fast forwards to his teenage years. My biggest problem with the film is that we don't get to see Brandon acting "normally." We see him being quiet and knowledgeable in class (and being teased as a result). The discovery of his powers coincides with puberty, but where boys are becoming interested in girls and growing hair, Brandon is curious about the insides of humans, experimenting with his indestructible skin, and discovering his superhuman strength. His mother goes on and on about how nice and sweet he was before the transformation, but we never see it. Maybe it was never there as plenty of people are delusional about the merits of their children.

The story is fairly straight forward without many twists and turns. Brandon discovers his superiority to humans and decides what to do about it. Unlike Superman, he chooses to be much more self serving and starts killing people who get in his way. Imagine an entitled white boy having the power to do what they want. He creeps on the girl he likes and hurts her when she rightfully rejects him, removes people who have authority over him, and shows no remorse for any of it. Of course, he insists on signing each scene with his symbol and leads a mounting police investigation in his direction. The atmosphere and death scenes are the best part of the film. The violence comes in unexpected ways as Brandon toys with his prey. Superhero films usually downplay brutal violence and do everything they can to detach the viewer from most deaths, but this film doesn't look away. For a fairly mainstream film, the gore much more than I expected and seen in extreme closeup in some cases. It's cringe inducing and one of the highlights of the film for me.

The other thing the film does well is in the human characters, particularly in Brandon's mom Tori. Tori is a mom trying to do her very best. Her parents gave up on her when she was a teenager and she vows to never do that to her son. Even when he does the most horrific things, she clings to some kind of hope that she can help turn him around and that he's good deep down inside. It's frustrating to watch from the outside, but it entirely makes sense to her character. Caitlyn, the girl Brandon harasses, is nice to him at first, but becomes creeped out when he sneaks into her room uninvited at night and then completely terrified when he breaks her hand for rejecting him in a game. Her mother is understandably angry at Brandon, that his counselor is going to be his own aunt, and the school's general lack of response to her daughter being assaulted. These two characters, though seen as villains to Brandon, are entirely understandable and I felt for them especially in this society that doesn't see men and boys like Brandon as the problem they are. Each death that happens is a bit of a gut punch because we know these characters and their motivation.

Brightburn is the superhero horror film that I wanted. It included social issues in a subtle way and portrayed human characters in a varied, relatable way. It has its problems like the predictable ending, the lack of development in Brandon, and the father seeming to be super willing to kill his kid without solid evidence. I would love to see a sequel or follow up because I think the story has more to give. I would recommend this film if you don't mind gore and are looking for a film kind of like Superman mixed with The Omen.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

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