Superhero-Horror Flick ‘Brightburn’ Soars on Scares, Falters on Soul

What if Superman were evil? 

The movie Brightburn explores the superhero theme along those lines.

A couple—Tori and Kyle Breyer—find an alien baby in the wreckage of a spaceship that crash-lands on their farm in Brightburn, Kansas. They take him in and name him Brandon. Brandon comes into his powers after he turns 12. It transpires that the boy has the moral compass of a psychopath.

There are many parallels with Superman:

  • Kal-El (Superman’s birth name) crash-lands in Smallville, Kansas, a rural area like Brightburn.
  • Kal-El is found and adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent.
  • Kal-El and Brandon’s superpowers include heat vision and the ability to hover and fly.
  • Kal-El and Brandon’s superhero alter egos wear capes.

The major difference is Kal-El is noble and helps mankind, while Brandon is driven to take over the world.

The moviemakers describe Brightburn as superhero-horror. It’s an anti-genre movie where you take the superhero genre and turn it on its head.

James Gunn, one of Brightburn’s producers, is no stranger to the superhero genre. His directing credits include Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and its sequel (2017), and The Suicide Squad (scheduled to be released Aug. 6). Brightburn was scripted by Gunn’s brother, Brian Gunn, and cousin, Mark Gunn.

The movie didn’t receive a lot of attention when it was released in 2019. Critics gave it mixed reviews.

Personally, I thought Brightburn delivered on the horror. There was suspense, and quite a few jump scares as the boy goes after those who get in his way.

The movie also did a good job showing the parents’ confusion and growing fear of their son. However, I wished it had focused a little more on Brandon’s internal struggle between his adopted humanity and innate alienness. That was a missed opportunity to add further depth. Not to mention it’s one of the cardinal rules of a superhero film—the crusaders must battle their inner demons even as they fight arch villains to save the world.

Instead, Brightburn moved rather quickly to the killing stage, ultimately devolving into a slasher flick. Like Brandon, it didn’t have much of a soul. 

That said, I would happily watch a sequel were there one. I am interested to see how the character develops.


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