Saturday, October 19, 2019

BRIGHTBURN (2019) Blu-ray Review

Scare-A-Thon Totals to Date:

Total Movies Watched: 17
Total First Time Views: 8
Amount raised for AMAZON WATCH: $1,351.84

Brightburn (2019) d. David Yarovesky (USA) (90 min) (1st viewing)

Shocking news: An inspired elevator pitch does not always result in a successful motion picture. Such is the case with the “What if Superman was evil?” concept behind this effort from the Gunn clan (James produces, while brother Brian and cousin Mark wrote the script) – what could have been an intriguing horror sidebar to our superhero-saturated landscape instead comes off as weak, lazy, and disappointing.

Having young couple Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman) witness a mysterious object fall from the Kansas skies into their cornfield one fateful night is a dandy way to start, but the missteps almost immediately ensue. Following a quick montage of “baby growing up” photos and videos, indicating that life, and the child, are normal and all is well, we flash forward “10 Years Later” and young Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) is in school, eating waffles, and while occasionally mocked from time to time for being smarter than the other students, nothing seems amiss. One night, Brandon has a dream and begins muttering in a strange language and sleepwalking out to the barn. Mom and Dad dismiss it as a fluke and everyone goes about their day.

Okay, it’s quickly revealed that Tori and Kyle have the wreckage of a FRIGGIN’ SPACESHIP hidden in their barn. So, they know that Brandon is a FRIGGIN’ ALIEN FROM ANOTHER WORLD. Yet, somehow, they have never discussed with each other how odd an occurrence this is and how they really don’t know anything about their kid. They have also never had “the talk” with him, i.e. he doesn’t know about his extraterrestrial origins or that these aren’t his real parents. Also, while I understand this is minor nerd-like quibbling, how is it that a FRIGGIN’ SPACESHIP falls to Earth and no one, but no one else (NASA, neighbors) seems to have noticed?

It is this failure to address details and plot points that keeps Brightburn from gaining any real traction, because it just gets worse from here. I found myself continually being taken out of the movie by the myriad distracting questions and conflicting character traits that change with the wind according to the needs of the story. For example, Meredith Hagner and Matt Jones (as Brandon’s aunt and uncle) give him a rifle for his 12th birthday. (Yes, you read that correctly – we flash forward 10 years from when he arrived as an infant from the skies and it’s his 12th birthday. You figure it out.) Dad gets all huffy, saying, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, no guns! We talked about this!” A couple scenes later, Kyle and Brandon are seen out deer hunting, with Dad toting a rifle. I mean… what?

Math is hard.

I know it’s a minor point, but it’s the kind of thing that could/should have been addressed in script conferences, not left to the audience to sift through on their own, justifying, “Well, maybe when he said they talked about it, he meant they talked about when would be an appropriate time for him to have his own gun. I mean, yes, they live in rural Kansas where hunting and guns are just part of the culture, but maybe he had a bad accident with his brother one time and…”


However, there are bigger issues to come. Namely with the fact that once Brandon’s superpowers start revealing themselves, he becomes a bad superkid. Like, overnight. There are barely any scenes of him discovering his powers and none that feature the accompanying fear or internal conflict or asking his parents (or anyone) about what’s happening to him. We simply see him exhibit great strength (flinging a lawnmower across the field) or fly or shoot laser beams from his eyes with barely a flicker of, “Huh, that’s strange. Didn’t know I could do that.” But he also continues to behave as a normal child most of the time, keeping his powers secret and using them sparingly… while wearing a bizarre shirt/mask that he allows people to keep taking off of him.

In the same way that there is no scene of the parents asking, “Hey, why isn’t the lawn mowed, Brandon? And hey, who threw the lawnmower way over here, Brandon? And hey, why is the blade all shattered, Brandon? What happened, Brandon?”, there are no scenes of them saying, “Um, so, that spaceship that we have in the barn that our son/not son seems to be gravitating toward? Do you think that’s a problem? Also, he seems to be chewing his metal fork down to the handle. Ah, well, we’ve got plenty of forks. No big deal, right?”

Banks’ character in particular is forced to carry around such enormous wheelbarrows full of denial and unswerving maternal instincts that it becomes laughable. “Yes, I know our son is from outer space, but he’s always been such a good boy. How dare you bring up the fact that he’s never been sick or cut or injured and that he’s preternaturally intelligent and that he just threw you through a wall.”

Meanwhile, Brandon’s been drawing strange symbols in his notebook that look like two diamonds on top of one another, symbols which start showing up at his various crime scenes. And even though said symbol looks nothing like two opposing “Bs”, our whirlwind sheriff (Gregory Alan Williams) gets suspicious and drives out to the Breyer house to point out to Tori and the audience that, hey, that looks like two opposing “Bs,” don’t you think, and what if that meant “Brandon Breyer” and maybe he’s got something to do with these murders that have started to occur in town? First off, WE KNOW IT’S BRANDON BECAUSE THEY KEEP TAKING THE MASK OFF and second, WE KNOW IT’S BRANDON BECAUSE WE SEE HIM DO IT. Also, WHY IS HE WEARING A MASK IN THE FIRST PLACE? There is no mystery here. There is no reveal. It’s as though our filmmakers simply said, “Well, it would be cool if he had a mask… right?”

A hero is only as good as its villain, and a villain is only as good as the challenges presented. Here, there are no challenges. Tori remains unashakeable in her faith that her little E.T. would never harm anyone (I mean, the scene where she dismisses the slaughter of the family chickens as “obviously a wolf,” despite the fact that the lock has been broken and the coop door torn off its hinges is pretty rich), and we grow to hate her as a result. Kyle isn’t much better, although at least he raises the issues only to have them shouted down by his lovely bride. And Brandon effortlessly dispatches everyone else who considers outing him. Where is the conflict?

Brightburn still manages to entertain at times in spite of itself. There are several well-executed gross-out scenes (diner scene, truck scene) and the story breezes along from set-piece to set-piece because the Gunns aren’t interested in plot or character. Still, if this is all they dreamed of when they had their big idea of an evil Superboy, I feel a little sad for them, because it’s so limited and so unambitious. The whiff of unrealized potential eventually grows suffocating and infuriating, and only gets worse the further we get from the closing credits.

Slickly produced and efficiently performed by all concerned, this is a case study in junk food movie-making for an R-rated audience looking for something different (but not too different), unconcerned with the lack of nourishment and inevitable indigestion to follow.


Audio commentary with director David Yarovesky, director of photography Michael Dallatore, and costume designer Autumn Steed

Nature vs. Nurture (5 min)

Hero Horror (5 min)

Quick Burns: Social Vignettes with actress Elizabeth Banks, producer James Gunn, and director David Yarovesky (5 min)

Brightburn is available now on Blu-ray and DVD from Sony Screen Gems and can be found at most major retail platforms.


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