Childless couple Tori and Kyle Breyer (Elisabeth Banks and David Denman) have their prayers answered when they adopt the baby who’s the sole inhabitant of the spacecraft which has crash-landed on their farmland. Fast forward 10 years and their “son” Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) has been identified by his school as a potentially gifted kid. You don’t say.
Brandon’s having the normal issues faced by the person who’s been singled out as the brain of the class. His fellow students think he’s a bit weird, save for the caring Caitlyn (Emmie Hunter). Still, they’re not hearing voices emanating from a source of power that appears to reside in the Breyers’ barn. The very source of power that Brandon’s parents have gone to great lengths to keep from their adopted boy. Well, they’ve secured it behind some doors, anyway. That lock’s definitely going to hold…
If you saw the trailer for David Yarovesky’s supervillain origin story then it does seem to hint at a Brandon versus the world as he leaves a trail of bloody destruction in his wake. And although that’s the general gist of the piece it’s dealt with on a more intimate scale, eschewing huge action set-pieces in favour of a creepy, small-town horror story. For anyone expecting this kid going up against armies, let me tell you right now that you’re not going to get that. Do you know what? That’s not such a bad thing.
The family dynamics are swiftly established and from there the film deals with how everyone around Brandon – and Brandon himself – deals with his newly-discovered talents. His lack of remorse comes to the fore as he terrifies Caitlyn with some stalkery behaviour (as a follow up to injuring her at school) and things just get worse as he finds out just how far he’s willing to go to stop people who get in his way.
This, of course, leads to some rather well constructed stalk and supervillain smash sequences as the individuals whom Brandon sees as enemies are pursued, scared shitless and then violently dispatched. There’s a scene in a diner which is a particular standout, with a warning for those of you who wince at the merest hint of eye trauma – like me. I mean, I’m a huge fan of Lucio Fulci’s films but does he have to attack his characters’ eyes so much?
But I digress. This is a tense, pared-down (it runs for just 90 minutes) tale which keeps the number of main characters down, develops them just enough for the viewer to want them to stay safe, then pits them against a far superior foe, upping the sense of impending doom. As the aforementioned foe, Jackson A. Dunn is very good indeed, whether he’s the frightened, confused boy of the first act to the transformed, dangerous force of the last.
It’s no surprise that Elisabeth Banks is on particularly fine form here as Tori, who wants to protect her adopted child no matter what, seeing the potential good in him even when it looks like he’s responsible for the deaths of those she knows. David Denman is also impressive as Kyle, coping with the balancing act of trying to do the best for Brandon even though he’s becoming more and more wary of him.
Brightburn may not develop in the way some will expect it to but it pulls off some surprisingly nasty moments with confidence and although it doesn’t wallow in gore it knows exactly when to deploy its most disgusting effects. The ending may not be totally unexpected but it throws something truly chilling into the mix in terms of collateral damage and wraps up with the prospect of mayhem on a much wider scale if there’s a return to this MCU (Malevolent Character Universe).
Rating: 3.5 / 5