In one of the scenes in “Brightburn”, the lead protagonist Brandon Breyer is in his class when the teacher asks him about hornets and bees which is the topic of discussion as well. Brandon remarks “ hornets sometimes leave their children to be raised by weaker bees as they don’t want to”. The film pretty much sets the tone with this statement. Brandon seems to look and behave like a regular teenager of his age who loves eating mac and cheese, sip colas and enjoys the company of his friends. His parents adore him but there is something which is just not right about him. Brandon has some superpowers and he doesn’t use it for the good of people.
This essay is aimed at reviewing “Brightburn” and explore the genre of kids and superheroes and how they have affected popular culture.
The movie chronicles the lives of the Breyer family who live in the town of “Brightburn” in Texas. The happy couple of Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman) yearn to have a child of their own. Despite many efforts and medical consultations, they are unsuccessful to have a kid. Then on one fateful night, a UFO crashes on their farm. This ship carries a young baby in it. Both of them take the baby and decide to adopt it. They name him Brandon and life carries on. Somewhere around 10 years later than that when Brandon is reaching puberty and maturity, he starts acting differently and his “alien” self starts revealing itself. The whole film then centers around Brandon’s “activities” and the emotional churn both Tori, Kyle have to endure in accepting the reality of their adopted child.
Can evil be the face of a 12 year old? Can evil go to unimaginable levels for a larger cause? How do parents deal with a ‘sinister’ version of their child? The emotional catharsis of a desperate mother. How a small town with a conservative population deal with such a threat?
These questions have been addressed in this unique idea. We have all grown up watching how a young “Kal-el” aka Clarke Kent crashes in a spaceship at the Kents farmhouse. How he goes on to become Superman and uses his unsurpassable powers for the good of humanity.
The writers here probably thought “What if Superman was evil?, what if he is evil in his younger self and starts butchering humanity in his teens?”
The film is based on an original screenplay by Mark Gunn and Brian Gunn but it borrows heavily from The Superman story. The Breyers are a lot like Kents. Their home is also a bit similar to the Kents household. The surrounding area of rural Texas fits perfectly as well. The Kents were the reference point in their town for good and compassion. In fact, Clarke derives his love for humans from his parents. In “Brightburn”, Brandon goes back to his hidden ship below the farm to get his energy and murmurs an alien language. Ultimately, his alien genes take over his human self.
Although when it comes to the family dynamics of both Tori and Kyle, the writers tend to take a cue from the characters of Gregory Peck and Lee Remick from “The Omen”. Both father and mother are at loggerheads on the subject of their own child. In “The Omen”, the child Damien is actually the devil’s offspring and has a psychological control on his mother in some ways. The Omen also has a similar ending like in “Brightburn”.
It is also shown in the film that Brandon prefers to use his own “cape” and keeps scribbling his own motif which resembles “BB” giving hints that it might be his own super power identity in the future. There are also mentions of similar incidents in the US of children with similar patterns and different powers.
Something very striking about this film is the fact that the “killings” are not simple. They are gory, edgy and disturbing at the same time. Usually, children are not seen doing brutal crimes in Hollywood films but here the writers have taken the liberty or risk of showing a kid as a “demonic being” rather than a “misguided teenager”. The Gunn brothers have clearly drawn the line between these.
The film also uses objects from popular films of similar genre to amplify the story line. There is a small bobble head of “Chucky” from the “Child’s Play” movies in Brandon’s room underlying his taste for monster films at an early age.
Elizabeth Banks shines as Tori Breyer. She essays a role of a woman desperate to have a child and the senseless obsession she has for an “adopted” son. She sees all the evil in him but somehow she still makes peace with the idea. Its this emotional conflict which makes Tori as a nuanced and powerful character in the film. David Denman also gives an effective performance as a troubled dad who frankly gets over his “fatherhood” much faster than the mom. Jackson Dunn as Brandon gives a chilling portrayal of the central character with his blank/stone face look.
BRIGHTBURN is a film about a family but should not necessarily be seen with family!