That won’t make a lot of sense to you until after you have seen Brightburn, but once you have…well, it’s all you are going to be thinking about for a long, long time: “The eye.” That thing in the restaurant…that thing with the woman’s eye.
In fact, just reading this, and remembering “the eye,” will probably make you squirm all over again, which is about the biggest compliment you can give director David Yarovesky (The Hive) and producer James Gun (Guardians of the Galaxy) for their new movie. That, and a promise to see it again as soon as you can.
Based on a script by Brian and Mark Gunn, writers of Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, Brightburn begins with a plot familiar with anyone who has seen or read a Superman origin story. An alien spacecraft crashes into a cornfield where it is discovered by the young couple who own the farm. Inside they find an infant boy and, since they are having trouble conceiving one of their own, they decide to keep it. Before too long they learn their adopted son has powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men and struggle to find a way to help their ‘super’ boy harness his unique abilities.
Only Tori and Kyle Breyer (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) aren’t the Kents and their child, Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) is not a naive goody two shoes like Clark Kent. He’s a troubled and moody little jerk who quickly realizes he can do whatever he wants to whomever he wants whenever he wants with little worry over the consequences.
In other words, he may just be the greatest movie superhero of all time.
That may sound like a silly thing to say, but after more than a decade of watching movie superheroes use their great powers with great responsibility, it’s exciting to see the ultimate anti-hero wreak havoc and destruction all over the screen with virtually no remorse. Twelve -year-old Brandon Breyer is the most powerful superbrat in the world and nothing is going to stop him, although many in the film try and fail.
For a tale as twisted as this to work it needs to depend on both a cast strong enough to make the unreal feel real and a director with enough vision and drive to use the reality they have created as a leaping off point to dive down deep into the terror at the heart of the Breyer’s story. Both factions are there aplenty in Brightburn, and experiencing how they join forces to create a near perfect storm of thrills is exhilarating.
As the kid with all the issues a teen could have and the power to fight against them, Dunn is perfectly cast as Brandon Breyer: The kid just looks creepy as hell even when he’s supposedly acting like a ‘normal’ little boy. There is more to Dunn’s performance than just looking creepy, though. Using little more than body language and facial expressions, the young actor shows what Brandon must be going through battling the forces of good and evil within as he explores the superpowered outward expression of his angst and the damage it causes, collateral and otherwise.
Denman does a good job as the father struggling with the fact that his son could be an indestructible super-fueled psychotic killer. His bursts of anger and attempts to stop Brandon are less effective than the subtler moments they share as a dad and son trying to get to become friends. The sequence when they go off on a hunting trip and have “the talk” is downright charming, even if the end result is horrifying. In generally, though, Denman’s performance is impressive and, above all, believable.
Far less subtle, but also far more impactful, is the work of Banks as the ultimate momma bear protecting her cub from any and all harm. Although Bank is probably most familiar to general film fans for her comic performances in films like the bitchy acapella commentator in the three Pitch Perfect movies, her cinematic talent reel ranges from an excellent turn playing Lauren Bush in W to the genre film favorite playing Starla Grant in the classic horror flick Slither. Her work as Tori Breyer is unlike any of her past performances in all the right ways. The love she has for the child she found in her field is palpable from the start, and watching those emotions evolve from the pure love of a mom for her son into the fierce love of a parent protecting a troubled child when the world seems to turn against him is the backbone of the film. And then having to watch that love turn against her in so many ways, and on so many levels, in the end, is both horrifying and heartrending.
Behind the camera, Yarovesky shows himself to be a master at both storytelling and at timing scenes to provide the shocks a modern-day horror movie audience demands. For example, there is a car accident in the movie caused by young Brandon as a way of stopping his Uncle Noah (Matt Jones) from telling his parents some of the crazy things he has been up to. Using one of his many burgeoning superpowers, Brandon uses telekinesis to lift the car his uncle is driving into the air and the piledrive it back down onto the road. A very quick, almost subliminal, shot then shows us Uncle Noah gruesomely eating the dashboard to the point that it almost severs his head from his body. Or at least that is the feeling you get from the flash of imagery you get. Any question over what you saw or didn’t see is quickly cleared up as Yarovesky treats us to long, lingering shots of Uncle Noah trying to keep his lower jaw, now hanging from his face by a few bloody strands of muscle and skin, from falling off entirely. And, in case we aren’t already shocked enough, the director shows us all this to a soundtrack of Uncle Noah slowly choking on his own blood.
It’s not a scene for the squeamish, but it’s a real money shot for horror fans. And it still pales in comparison to what Yarovesky shows us with “the eye”.
- John Black, Brightburn