Between the red cape and the heat vision, Brightburn clearly has no pretences about what exactly it is drawing from.
Intentionally hemming extremely close to the Superman mythos ingrained in the minds of most people on the planet, the film is set in the fictional rural town of Brightburn, Kansas (strongly resembling Smallville). It opens small, on a scene where Tori (Banks) and her husband Kyle (Denman), struggling with infertility, are trying to conceive. They’re interrupted by a spaceship crashing into their barn – housing a boy that they adopt, and name Brandon.
The script is canny about the audience’s familiarity with this story, so no time is wasted getting to Brandon’s adolescence, as his powers manifest. Not long after his god complex grows, Jackson A. Dunne channeling a creepy psychopathic rage reminiscent of Ezra Miller’s Kevin.
The excitement to get to the (literal) meat of this material is respectable, but also shortchanges what efforts it does make to imbue the film with meaning – only vaguely suggesting at notions of toxic masculinity and the culpability of parents in raising a monster. Other ideas, such as the metaphor of superpowers symbolising puberty, feel like ground well-trodden.
As with We Need To Talk About Kevin, Brightburn is a twisted tale of nature vs nurture, via borrowed imagery from Zack Snyder’s paranoid, bleak Man Of Steel. Outside of Dunne’s creep-tastic performance, the film mostly thrives on jump scares and gore, effectively deploying its minuscule budget as it aims for bloody, agonising moments that stretch just beyond the realm of comfort – manifesting this fear of superior power in a mess of corpses and destroyed property. But this is the limit of the film’s ideas; beyond its ‘what if’ concept, there’s not much beneath the surface, except maybe more viscera.
But what it lacks in any greater meaning, it makes up for with good old B-movie gore. It’s a demon child story wearing the mask of a superhero film, twisting an age-old myth into something quite unsettling, even if it isn’t all that deep.