A visionary horror-take on Superman, James Gunn spins an avant-garde subversion of the lore with a child-bullying/outcast narrative, stylistic flair in (*brutal*) slasher sequences, small-town Kansas feel, and mega-twisted coming-of-age origins. 8/10.
Plot Synopsis: What if a child from another world crash-landed on Earth, but instead of becoming a hero to mankind, he proved to be something far more sinister? With Brightburn, the visionary filmmaker of Guardians of the Galaxy and Slither James Gunn presents a startling, subversive take on a radical new genre: superhero horror.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
Gunn x (Anti)-Superman
He’s Not Here To Save The World
January 31, 2019. James Gunn, acclaimed director of The Guardians of The Galaxy films is announced to direct a reboot of Suicide Squad, after Disney (foolishly) fires him over decade-old tweets he rebuked and apologized for numerously. Many DC fans were unsure what to make of the news – a bizarre blend of happy knowing he already showed aptitude catapulting complete-unknown characters to Hollywood-stardom and thus should have no trouble given already-iconic villains of Batman-lore, and anxious not wanting the often-goofy MCU humor/tone to pervade the more-adult & happily-darker DCU. Those fears were extinguished the second I saw the Brightburn trailer instantly working its way to the top of my must-sees for 2019, and CLC being invited to see the film early before its release to the general public this Memorial Day – thanks Sony! Doing the unconscionable: taking the symbol of hope, epitomization of truth/justice/American way and turning him into an Angel of Death in this dark, hard-R-hitting horror film, James Gunn’s visionary horror-take on Superman weaves a masterful subversion of everything we thought we knew about superheroes with a child-bullying/outcast narrative, pitch-black tone, small town Kansas feel, brutal scares with stylistic slasher flair, and twisted coming-of-age thematics.
Lex Luthor Was Right: The Subversion Of Comics Lore & Corruptibility Of Power
Exploring a different trajectory of the Man of Steel’s pop culture-ubiquitous backstory is absolutely brilliant. James Gunn is clearly the mastermind here, being a happily-testified superhero fanatic who obviously did his homework and studied every fiber of the first-ever superhero’s being and adapatations. Everything on Superman’s beginnings checklist is crossed off, and even feels classically-light and hopeful both in tone and piano-airy scoring early on – with sweet sentimental found-footage vignettes juxtaposing sugary family postcard pictures before the escalation of something sinster begins to take shape. Weaving in Easter Eggs from comics and past films like Superman 1978, Returns, and Snyder’s 2013 MOS (as well as Elseworlds/Darkseid comic references) any mega-fan will instantly spot and absolutely adore seeing them reimagined in such clever subversive ways – complete with perfect locational settings in an intimate small-town Kansas feel and even twisting of the shape of the iconic S into a BB – it looks and reads just like a Superman movie until things take the darkest turn you could possibly imagine.
*Brutal* Scares With Slasher & Stylistic Flair
This is what skyrockets the film into masterpiece territory. As the film escalates in old-fashioned, Hitchcock-ian suspense building thoroughly refreshing amidst all the stale tenth-sequel crackers the genre throws at us, the horror sequences get wilder too. Boasting some of the most downright-sadistic and humanity-deprived scares I’ve ever seen in a horror film, Brightburn fully capitalizes on its immense potential to be the ultimate slasher movie with an unstoppable, God-like slasher – complete with fear-evoking mask and theatrical costume. My favorites being the diner/steel safe twist, plane crash, laser eyes, and ending sky-drop, it is absolutely sensational how Gunn flips these iconic Superman sequences straight out the film history books into their antimatter forms – with the same being responsible for them going fro savior protecting those involved to the one responsible for their demise. Gunn comes up with a few inventive stylistically-impressive sequences of his own too – like the laptop music cycling, eye-shard (my word that was hard to stomach), car-lifting and jaw-breaking (again, my word that was dark), and ending naysayer-dissection ironically opposing the film’s opening Biology class sequence. It even works in some psychological torment too like the incredibly demonic dream vision towards the film’s end. Atmospherically chilling.
The Twisted Coming-Of-Age Thematics With A Child-Bullying/Outcast Narrative
Amidst all this stomach-churning horror is dazzling emotional and psychological levity by way of the childhood-themes it chooses to tackle. Spurring this U-turn in trajectory previously prophesized to Jesus-savior but now Devil-like is a reflection on the impacts of bullying on children already prone to outcast-ish or misfit upbringings. Brandon starts out as a seemingly-perfectly normal 12-year old kid: going to school, respecting his elders, having crushes, and being a normal active member of the community. Despite the locked-up remnants of his ship from Krypton seemingly calling out to him for its negative conquest-ic ambitions, he is equally steered to evil by the trauma he faces – including the ultra-traumatizing revelation we knew all along but that pushes him over the edge breaking his psyche: that his whole life was a lie, a fabricated ruse to make him think he’s human for the selfish desires of his parents. The hard-right the story takes wherein he realizes he’s special and superior but fits it into a preconceived perception of reality that people are bad and deserve to die is simply genius screenwriting and a branched possibility of how young-Supes might take that reality-distorting of news I hadn’t even considered or thought of as a mega-fan – hats off to Gunn and the crew for existentially dissertating to this level.
The Pacing, Length, Cinematography, & Cast
Brightburn’s pacing is just as swift and nimble as the faster-than-a-speeding-bullet subject it takes on, with a tour-de-force story told skillfully in an unbelievable 1 hour 30 min runtime. Showcasing yet again that films with even this massive a subject and lore can be handled artfully without turning into 3-hour overkills with the right surgical team behind the camera, Gunn’s work deserves notice by Hollywood. The cinematography is also of note – with imaginative shot constructions and stylistic flair in (often-tilting) motifs we’re presented with effectively-chilling color gratings. The cast is also perfect from Jackson A. Dunn’s show-stealing dark-tripped child-Supes giving one of the most serial-killer-looking, ruthless, and duality-doubling portrayals I’ve seen in many-a-child actor performance, all the way to his loving parents caringly infused with life by David Denman of The Office fame and the sublime Elizabeth Banks of Hunger Games/Raimi Spider-Man/Emmy-nom’d 30 Rock you have to feel immensely sorry for being put in that difficult a parental situation wrestling with the idea your child you love so much could also be a monster lying to your face while wreaking sadistic villainy behind your back. The character development is also strong too, with Brandon turning from normal kid to morality-deprived serial killer, and his parents from loving defenders wrestling with parental themes before deciding to ultimately have to painfully try to hunt their own child by film’s end. Finally, that post-credits I’m all out of superlatives to praise teasing the potential of a possible twisted-Justice League shared universe just like (and potentially led by) Brandon?! SIGN. ME. UP.
Flaws: The Mask & Escalation
Flaws include Brandon’s mask I wish was a little better, and the bully-escalation I wish was slightly more pronounced in concord with the events that followed. While his ensemble is mostly great-looking as a whole and I agree with the mask concept being a clear reference/homage to slasher flicks and highlighting his demonic glowing red eyes, his mask looks a little too much like Scarecrow’s from Nolan’s Batman Begins (which wasn’t great to begin with in contrast to the legendary trilogy as one of BB’s only conceivable flaws that at least had fear gas to spruce up) and could’ve been far better designed. Also, while the psycho-deterioration of bullying was definitely there and the idea sensical being something many criminals and wrongdoers cite as a major obstruction in their healthy development, it could have been more elaborated upon and nuanced to push him over the edge faster and more cleanly.
A Visionary Horror-Take On Superman & Avant-Garde Subversion Of Comic Book Lore: The Symbol Of Hope Into An Angel Of Death
Overall, Brightburn is an avant-garde thrill ride possibly creating a new genre amongst the most innnovative and my top dozen picks of 2019 (so far). A visionary horror-take on Superman, James Gunn weaves a masterful subversion of the icon of Hope’s lore doing the unconscionable: making him an Angel of Death, with a child-bullying/outcast narrative, hard-R tone, authentic small-town Kansas feel with intimate scaling, brutal scares with stylistic slasher flair, inventive cinematography & shot construction/composition, and twisted coming-of-age thematics for a tour-de-force antithesis of Superman movies and everything we thought the (now-stale-getting) superhero genre can be. BB.
Official CLC Score: 8/10