Brightburn is an almost good enough film that you can't help but root for the film a little bit and wish that it were actually a better film.
Brightburn is a premise desperately in search of a satisfying film that lives up to that premise.
Brightburn has a whole bunch of gore, occasionally even enough to satisfy gorehounds, but there's an equally disturbing lack of actually chills, thrills, scares and true horror along the way.
In short, Brightburn occasionally satisfies in the way that you know there's a good motion picture lingering somewhere underneath the surface of this fundamentally interesting idea that takes a golden idea and turns it into silver.
Produced by former Troma schlockster turned big budget superhero auteur James Gunn, Brightburn is co-written by his brother (Brian Gunn) and his cousin (Mark Gunn) and essentially flips the Superman narrative while giving us a sort of origin story that moves so quickly that we never completely buy into it anyway.
The film is set in the small town of Brightburn where wannabe parents Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman) are struggling to conceive a child. When a meteor falls from the sky with a baby inside, they are temporarily lulled into thinking that maybe their prayers have been answered.
Of course, there's never really a single moment when we believe that to be true.
As their adopted child, Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn), grows up, they begin to realize just how incredibly wrong they really were.
Brightburn is pretty much a balls to the walls with the a-ha moments, only occasionally toying with the actual superhero narrative that is suggested by the film's deceptively PG-13 aesthetics and equally by James Gunn's involvement in the film. It's a film that moves quickly, perhaps too quickly, the film's story never really worthy of any sort of emotional investment and the film's horror infinitely less satisfying as a result.
Brightburn is definitely not a PG-13 rated film; in fact, it's a rather hard-R rated film with some of the grislier deaths we've seen from a studio-released motion picture in quite some time. To his credit, director David Yarovesky gets immensely creative here and those who prefer more kills than chills will likely walk away at least moderately happy from the film. Filmed on a modest by studio standards $6 million budget, Brightburn actually accomplishes some amazing things with that budget and its fairly relentless creepy atmosphere serving up a refreshing tonal consistency, less schlocky but not quite shocking. Much of the credit for the ways in which the film does succeed goes to the sublimely cast Jackson A. Dunn, ironically an Avengers: Endgame vet, who infuses his Brandon with just a hint of humanity that leaves you guessing just how far he'll go and leaves you expecting that the film will pull back in places that it never actually pulls back.
It's a pretty awesome performance that assures we'll be seeing more from Dunn in the future.
Brightburn takes risks, one could say they're risks that a $6 million film can afford to make when it's in the horror genre and opening nationwide, but Yarovesky still deserves credit for artistic integrity that pays off mightily in the film's final third when creepy turns into chaotic and any sense of hope really is subverted into a joyfully bleak climactic sequences.
Brightburn could have been a much more satisfying film, but even at only modestly satisfying it's a film that should attract attention this Memorial Day weekend. While some are likely to lament the film's predictability and overly simplistic narrative, my gut feeling is it's going to be just good enough for those looking for something a little more gleefully cynical and unapologetically sadistic. Closer to B-movie than true studio horror, Brightburn falls shortest when it actually is a studio horror and shines the brightest when Yarovesky gives audiences what they're really gonna' want.
As the closing credits rolled with Billie Eilish's "Bad Guy" in the background, I chuckled.
Sometimes, that chuckle says a film is just good enough.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic