Edwin Arnaudin: In this post-End Game world, the darkly comedic Brightburn and its “evil Superman” narrative feels like the movie about extraordinary abilities that we both need and deserve. Do you concur?
Bruce Steele: I loved it. Turning the Clark Kent legend on its head is a great starting point, and the storytelling never flags. Even the "we found a baby in a crashed rocket" scene is concise and darkly reimagined. Shown in a twisted flashback, it comments on the widening gulf between parents Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman) once the wrecked capsule — stored in their barn — reactivates and 12-year-old Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) starts to utilize previously unknown super powers. Were you reminded of Chronicle as well?
Edwin: I honestly don’t think I would have thought about it much if you hadn’t made the comparison in the theater lobby. I was so fixated on the Smallville parallels — alien infant boy crash lands in a pod and is found by a barren Kansas couple who raises him into a brilliant, red-cape-wearing tween — that I was more than satisfied seeing writers Brian and Mark Gunn (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) and director David Yarovesky (The Hive) riff on those DC expectations. But I agree that Brandon’s budding skill set and the sly way it’s filmed has much in common with the portrayal of the teen trio in Josh Trank’s pleasant 2012 surprise.
Bruce: Well, it’s not “found footage,” thank goodness. It’s good, old-fashioned scary movie direction — and misdirection. The intense scenes, especially when Brandon ramps up his evil side, are really well constructed. You can almost see the storyboards. What did you think of the special effects?
Edwin: I'm impressed! For a seemingly modestly budgeted project, they seem expensive — or at least never distractingly cheap. And they become a fairly integral component as the action ratchets up, always augmenting the visuals and intensity. Do you agree?
Bruce: The effects are indeed impressive, in part because they're not flashy. This is a movie set in an unsophisticated hamlet about a boy just stretching his powers, so it's important that the look of the movie, including the CG shots, remain consistent with that back woods aesthetic. Whether in a diner or in a pickup truck on a dark road, the shocker scenes do just that. And the ... let's call them "wounds" Brandon causes are especially disturbing in part because they're so believably and grittily envisioned. Brightburn is not a gorefest, but Brandon's damage will definitely make you wince.
Edwin: The writers are the brothers of James Gunn, who himself specialized in dark, violent action/comedies (Slither; Super) before the decidedly cuddlier Guardians of the Galaxy movies, so the comedic shock value here is pretty on-brand for this delightfully twisted family. That said, I think parts of the script could have used Famous Brother’s help, especially Tori and Kyle living in unbelievable denial regarding their son’s culpability in local accidents/tragedies. I mean, the kid’s a friggin’ space baby!
Bruce: Well, you know, parents. Denial comes easy, even when there's a spaceship in the barn. And Brandon looks so sweet — when he's not wearing his homemade mask of doom. The movie also reminded me of those 1970s classics The Omen and especially the underrated Damien: Omen II, when the son of Satan is Brandon's age and discovers and wrestles with his heritage. What Brandon's heritage is in Brightburn remains largely obscure. Did that work for you?
Edwin: It does! So many origins and reasons for this and that are spelled out in modern cinema that the ambiguity on display feels refreshing. Even with — or perhaps because of — the familiar tropes off which it’s playing, Brightburn stands on its own as an exciting, creative work. I wouldn’t mind a future progress report on Brandon, but would also be perfectly fine with a one-and-done and simply trusting the filmmakers to come through with more invigorating tales. I give it a B-plus.
Bruce: I'm not entirely opposed to a sequel, but I'd prefer to leave it alone. It was thoroughly enjoyable on its own. It's my kind of horror movie: It made me jump and creeped me out and blurred the moral edges without piling on the gore or the screams. I'll call it Slowburn, and give it an A-minus.
Grade: A-minus. Rated R. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande, and Carolina Cinemark
(Photos by Boris Martin/Courtesy of Sony Pictures)