Brightburn (2019)

Director: David Yarovesky
Writer: Brian Gunn, Mark Gunn
Cast: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Matt Jones, Meredith Hagner, Michael Rooker
Seen on: 30.12.2022

Content Note: misogyny, stalking

Many years ago, Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman) were desperately trying to have a baby, but it just wouldn’t happen – until they found a spaceship in the woods that carried a baby. They decided to take him as their own and have been taking care of Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) ever since. Now Brandon is turning 12 years old, and starts to show superpowers and very troubling behavior, becoming a threat to everyone around him.

I like the general idea of Brightburn which boils down to “What if Superman was bad?” which is a fair question. Unfortunately, the film does exactly nothing with that premise, giving us an uninspired a film that makes up for its lack of consideration and character work with blood and misogyny.

The film poster showing Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) floating. He is wearing a creepy red mask and a red cape.

Brightburn is so taken with the question of what happens if Superman is evil, it never gives any thought how Superman, or in this case, Brandon, ends up being evil in the first place. He just flips a switch from one day to another, turning from a sweet boy into a misogynist killing machine without remorse. And yes, sure, we could be having that conversation: how do our sweet boys end up as misgynists, abusers and rapists? What goes wrong there? Because that happens, we all know it does, no superpowers needed, just patriarchy. But the film is not interested in that in the slightest. So it just shrugs and makes Brandon genetically evil, just an evil species. And with that explanation, any excuse that the film might have about being a criticism of toxic masculinity goes out the window.

So, we’re left with a nihilistic film that revels just as much as Brandon does in the terror of his female classmate who had the audacity to reject him, or her mother who is trying to protect her. It seems not a coincidence that the film takes a lot of time with the stalking of Brandon’s female victims, while Brandon’s male victims are dispatched much more quickly (not that I took the time but that’s certainly what it feels like).

Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn)  with glowing red eyes.

There is also a troubling portrayal of parenthood here that annoyed me – whereas Kyle very quickly sees Brandon for what he is and is ready to act pretty cold-bloodedly about it, Tori is all love and disbelief until she gets all the proof one could possibly need shoved in her face and she can’t deny it anymore. Then she is still all love. The juxtaposition of the cold, removed, hard father (that really came out of nowhere because until the plot demanded it, Kyle was a warm and loving father) and the loving, self-sacrificing mother is just old and tired.

I didn’t go into the film expecting much, but even so, I left disappointed. As many other films, this one confuses pessimism for depth, and ends up glorifying villainy instead of criticizing it. This is never more apparent than when it gives us an Info Wars-style conspiracy theorist (Michael Rooker) talking about several other superpowered beings that terrorize the world. Not only is the obvious franchise bait a little ridiculous considering the film’s lack of success, but I really don’t want a film that ends up saying that right-wing conspiracy theorists are telling the truth about the world.

In the forest. Tori (Elizabeth Banks) cradling baby Brandon, wrapped in a red blanket.

Summarizing: no, thanks.

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