‘Brightburn’: James Gunn’s Horror Sci-Fi Presents a Dark Twist on the Superman Story

What if Superman wasn’t into Truth, Justice and the American Way? What if he discovers that he came from outer space and takes it badly, and that hostility leads to anger and random destruction of a small farming town in Kansas?

What if someone, thinking this is a new and original idea, makes a horror film out of it, with Superman as Michael Myers meets Freddy Krueger? That movie would be “Brightburn.” It has all the scariness and blood that any self-respecting horror film wallows in, with an ending that’s predictable in its tragedy.

The story begins quickly enough. Kyle and Tori Breyer (David Denman and Elizabeth Banks) cuddle in their homey Kansas farmhouse when a loud impact shakes the home and sends it into darkness. Cut to a montage of cute baby videos. Suddenly, it’s ten years later.

Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn) is late for school where he will humbly show all his classmates how brilliant he is, and they will show their appreciation by making fun of him. Only a lone girl Caitlyn (Emmie Hunter) gives him any support.

For the most part, Brandon is a sweet, shy young child who is loved by his parents, along with his uncle Noah (Matt Jones) and aunt Merilee (Meredith Hagner). All things considered, he has a great family life for someone who could have fallen into any circumstance anywhere in the world.

That is until his spaceship begins to talk to him from the recesses of the Breyer barn where it was hidden by the Breyer parents. Things go downhill quickly after that. Once he discovers he can throw a lawnmower many yards into the fields and is impervious to rotating mower blades, his attitude changes. Not that anyone would notice in his seemingly brain dead community. 

Mom sees him floating about the hidden spaceship but still gets angry with Dad at any suggestion he might be different. Yet knowing there’s something strange about Brandon, Dad qualifies for the worthless fathers list when he tells his 10-year-old son that it’s okay to act on his sexual impulses, which Brandon does by paying a late night visit to little Caitlyn’s bedroom. He is only stopped from whatever he was planning by the intervention of Caitlyn’s mom Erica (Becky Wahlstrom).

Showing a long repressed hostility, Brandon takes pride in his superior heritage. Boasting all the intelligence and super powers of Superman and lacking only his fashion sense, as he scurries about dressed like an anemic scarecrow, Brandon shows his strengths by taking petty revenge on anyone who does him wrong. Again, not that anyone notices. 

Little Caitlyn ends up in the hospital with her arm in a cast because Brandon crushes her hand and wrist over the course of a minute or two in full view of teacher and classmates. Only Caitlyn’s mom seems at all concerned. And for that she’ll pay with her life. Everyone else, including the sheriff and the school principal, buys that it was an accident. “He’s only ten-years old,” says Mom. Brandon is suspended from school for two days.

The entire cast, especially Elizabeth Banks, do an excellent job portraying conflicted adults, unwilling to believe the worst about Brandon. Jackson Dunn does the best he can with material that is more focused on being somewhat scary than any real portrayal of a young boy that suddenly discovers super powers and his alien bloodline. Even as far as evil is concerned, he is no Damien from “The Omen” or even a Smallville Lex Luthor.

Both DC and Marvel Comics have done their own deconstruction of major superheroes turning bad. And often they have achieved it with greater ambition than demonstrated in this James Gunn-produced film. “Brightburn” is a by-the-book effort that entertains but fails to enlighten.

Brightburn” opens May 24 in theaters nationwide.