Evil Superman is a tried and true trope. There have been numerous iterations of the idea, from straight up world conquering Superman to Russian comrade supreme Superman. But I had yet to see an evil Superman that shows up in a B-grade horror film where he’s just a psychopathic slasher. That’s what you’ll get when you watch “Brightburn.” I’m sad I wrote this off when it came out theatrically because I had a really good time watching it.
The trailers pretty much spell out the film from the get go. But there really isn’t much in there that most modern moviegoers don’t already know. Superman is a modern legend, and like most A level superheroes, audiences know the pitch. Alien ship crash lands into small town America. Kindly couple takes in the baby and raise it as their own. Kid comes into his own and discovers he has amazing abilities. Truth, justice and the American way. That’s Superman in a nutshell.
“Brightburn” taps into that but plays with that existing knowledge and manipulates it into its own design. One of my favorite scenes in the film is when our main character Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) first comes face to face with the ship he crash landed in and the whole shot is doused in a deep, glaring red light. His mom, Tori (Elizabeth Banks), finds him just floating over this spaceship and it just feels like the scene was pulled from a dozen different possession films. I loved it. This film is unapologetic in declaring itself a horror movie that just happens to have a superhuman in it. And it isn’t like the precedent hasn’t already been set.
Jason, Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger are all superhuman in their own way. While Brandon isn’t on par with them in kill count, he can match their sadism quite well. Gore is upfront and brutal in this film. It isn’t super prominent and happens only a handful of times but when it happens, it really punches you in the gut. The diner scene in particular really had me cringing on the couch and I told my wife to avert her eyes before the nastiness even began. She just had to take one look at my horrified face to know that had been a wise decision.
From what I heard about this film since its release, it seems many of audiences issues with it lie in perspective. As I said before, the trailers didn’t hold back when they promised evil Superman. I feel like people who complained there wasn’t enough inner turmoil in Brandon choosing between good and evil are thinking about this film as a superhero movie and not the horror film that it is. No one questions why Michael Myers killed his sister as a kid. We just register that as an Evil act. This stamps him as the heavy of the film and we know Jamie Lee Curtis is in for a tough ride once the trick or treaters come out.
Much like Brandon’s actions in the film, I felt that the story didn’t need to focus on why he did those things but merely showed us he could do those things. Brandon isn’t human. He’s an alien that crash landed on Earth and was raised by two humans. I love to think that once that spaceship turned on, it also turned on a dormant part of Brandon’s alien mind. That part is what started asserting itself and didn’t feel the need to abide by human morality. It simply isn’t human and that’s what makes Brandon terrifying. And that’s what made following his journey so fascinating to watch.
Being a small budget horror film, some craft flaws are apparent. The CGI isn’t particularly compelling and at times, quite laughable. Some aspects of the story feel like they were pulled from alternate scripts, and while enjoyable when they play out, they just feel like beats from something that wasn’t in the final product. But, I was able to overlook most of the flaws because despite them, the filmmakers really came together and made a tight, superhuman slasher that was a blast to sit through.
“Brightburn” is a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. With all the Marvel and DC films saturating the market, it was enjoyable to see what could be made in a similar mold and yet stand out on its own. A horror film with Evil Superman.
What’s not to love?
“Brightburn” is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray and digitally. It is rated R.
3 ½ out of 5 stars
Oscar Chavez Castaneda is the Montrose Daily Press’ film critic. Find out more about him on his website, oscarchavezcastaneda.com. He will review a movie new to theaters or a new DVD release every other week.