Film Review: Brightburn

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Produced by the Gunns – that’s James and cousins – this super-villain fantasy inverts the first act of Richard Donner’s Superman, imagining the onset of puberty leads to an alien child with malevolent intent, rather than an earnest kid struggling with his otherworldly abilities and noble purpose.

So closely is the story patterned on Superman, it’s a pity the filmmakers weren’t willing or able to make the transition more subtle than it plays here. Brandon, the troubled 12 year-old with burgeoning feelings toward a girl at school and issues around his “adopted” parentage, is a subdued blank from the get-go – true to his alien nature perhaps, but not a child set up to follow a tragic arc.

Had he been a sweeter, kinder boy in Act One – slowly corrupted in a power trip stemming from the onset of his God-like abilities, then his instinct for reprisal and fixation on being a predator, in the vein of the humble wasp (as opposed to those passive, peace-loving bees), would have had greater heft.

Instead, we’re asked to feel something when, Omen-like, a kid lacking a certain endearing quality suddenly turns on his bemused parents and extended family. Said parents have always known the truth about their son, namely that they plucked him from a crashed spacecraft, but curiously remain incurious about his origins until the shit starts to hit the fan.

We might be able to accept that a childless couple unable to conceive and desperate for a baby would count their blessings, but it’s hard to understand why they’d lock up the space ship and not try to learn anything about it for 12 years, or wait that long to google the asteroids that fell to Earth on the night their boy landed.

Consequently, it’s hard to suspend your disbelief when Mum and Dad start to share audience misgivings, and harder still to feel sorry for the now activated alien child, acting on impulse to destroy the world.

Brightburn has some nice ideas – an alien wasp-like predator is indeed creepy, and it makes a fist of some disturbing setpieces on a limited budget, but it fails as a character study and consequently never plays as anything other than a muted home invasion movie, uneasily combining superhero flicks with horror movies like Sinister and The Conjuring, into a something less than either – a fusion experiment that results in a flavour unpalatable to both audiences.

Directed by: David Yarovesky

Country: US

Year: 2019

Running Time: 90 mins

Certificate: 15 for slow parents, useless authorities, and hicks.

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