Superhero films have gotten to a saturation point in our culture where it is probably time to start seeing filmmakers start to deconstruct their cinematic tropes similar to how comics creators began to do so in the 1980s. In fact, there have already been a couple – James Gunn’s 2010 film Super and Josh Trank’s 2012 movie Chronicle. But none have so obviously and blatantly played with iconic superhero tropes as Brightburn. And while the idea of retelling this particularly well-known superhero origin story but giving it a sharp left turn seems like a fun and interesting one to explore, director David Yarovesky’s film here does only the most superficial scratching of the surface.
Tori and Kyle are a young couple who are having trouble conceiving a child, when the answer to their troubles almost literally falls into their lap in the form of a baby in a spaceship which has crash-landed on their rural Kansas farm. (Sound familiar?) Fast forward twelve years and their foundling, which they named Brandon, is starting to become a sulky, disobedient pre-teen. But instead of the normal growing pangs his classmates might be experiencing, Brandon is finds himself struggling with impulses that may be related to how and why he wound up on Earth. And as he starts to manifest such superpowers as flight, invulnerability, super strength and heat vision, things do not bode well for those in the general vicinity.
A superhero/horror blend that hints at being a nature versus nurture story, at its heart Brightburn really just wants to be the offspring of an unholy tryst between Richard Donner’s two films The Omen and Superman: The Movie. It even swipes and attempts to ironically repurpose one of Pa Kent’s (Glenn Ford) most iconic lines – “You were sent here for a purpose.” – but the effort just lands with a leadened thud.
The problem, though, is that Brightburn doesn’t demonstrate any interest in actually exploring its conceit one bit, choosing instead thrills over thought. And even then, the thrills come rather cheaply. Director Yarovesky relies heavily on jump scares throughout the first half of the film then switches to moderate splashings of gore for the second half. There is also no sense of rising tension or terror would one hope for in a story like this. The movie just seems to go through the plot points, never building any feeling of dread in the viewer. Instead, we are just left with disappointment over what could have been.