“Brightburn”, released last spring, answers the age old question comic book fanatics have been asking since the first issue of Superman dropped in the late 1930’s...the same idea alluded to in David Ayer's 2016 adaption of “Suicide Squad” by none other than Viola Davis’ fiery Amanda Waller: what if Superman had turned out to be evil?
This idea, better referred to as a nightmare, would mean that the beloved, incorruptible and arguably most famed superhero of all time would use his powers to kill as opposed to save. In short, “Brightburn” effortlessly tackles how a young Brandon Beyers, a dark sociopathic version of a young Clark Kent, uses his Kryptonian abilities (which include super strength, heat vision, flight, super speed and indestructibility) to murder the people who live in his small American farm town Brightburn. The film follows a middle aged couple, David and Tori, who have been trying to have a child together for years but have been unsuccessful... until baby Brandon crashes into the Earth behind their farm and the pair make the only logical choice when presented with this situation: keep the alien-child and raise it as their own!
The narrative pushes the audience to feel attached to Brandon’s rocky relationship with his parents, making us feel especially awful when they both meet their grizzly fates at his hands. Although the first few acts tinker along with a handful of unsettling moments and gory deaths, all personally marked by his sinister and recurring red "B" symbol, the real treasure of this film is in the sequence where Brandon’s parents realize that he is the one killing residents of Brightburn.
Leading into this sequence, we see David trying desperately to convince Tori that Brandon is dangerous, which she heartbreakingly cannot accept; he is her son, he’s all she’s ever wanted and its not possible for her to let that go. After a heated confrontation where Brandon effortlessly pushes David through a glass cabinet, David suggests to Tori that he take Brandon on a father-son camping trip as a way to relieve the tension between them.
While the pair are away and hunting for deer, the Sheriff arrives at the Beyers Farm and interrogates Tori. He shows her photos of Brandon's "B" symbol written at each crime scene, which she instantly recognizes from his sketchbook. Appalled, she asks the Sheriff to leave and rushes upstairs to his bedroom in search of the sketchbook. In the woods, Brandon notices deer tracks in the dirt. As he kneels down to examine them, David lifts his hunting gun and carefully takes aim at the back of Brandon’s head.
In this moment, we see a complex combination of emotions painted across David’s face; he shows us remorse knowing that he’s about to shoot his son, but also fear knowing that if he doesn’t kill Brandon, many more people will die at his hands... perhaps even everybody. Back at the farm, Tori rifles through Brandon’s sketchbook, seeing detailed illustrations of each murder and drawings of his plans for world domination. She’s mortified, realizing that he had used his powers to kill David's best friend, along with other townsfolk. Earlier on in the film, Brandon shoves his hand into the blade of a lawn mower and destroys it, revealing his indestructibility. Now, in the woods, David is seconds from pulling the trigger and shooting him. In this moment, the audience can’t help but feel a pounding and stomach-churning anxiety. Due to our knowledge and understanding of Superman’s indestructibility, as well as Brandon’s encounter with the lawnmower, we know that he will undoubtedly survive a bullet to the head... but David doesn't.
During this sequence, I found myself screaming for David not to shoot. But he sheds a single tear... exhales... then pulls the trigger. The bullet ricochets harmlessly off the back of Brandon’s skull. He stands and faces his father, betrayed, while David stares back in absolute terror. Back at the farmhouse, Tori calls David over and over in an effort to warn him until Brandon answers and eerily tells his mother that David is “gone”.
In my opinion, this sequence was flawlessly done; the camerawork keeps us close to Tori as she stumbles up the stairs to find the sketchbook while the editing splices two highly intense scenes together in order to heavily deliver a horrific dose of suspense and paranoia. Earlier in the film, Tori asks David if they should have Brandon see a psychiatrist, to which David replies that nobody can help them. They took Brandon from the woods and due to that choice, Brandon was their responsibility. He wrestles with the guilt of rescuing Brandon from the woods through out the entire film, feeling in some way that his and Tori's selfishness had led to this carnage.
Due to this, David feels responsible for ending the madness and tries to kill him. But an underlying theme that bubbles just below the surface as the film trudges on is power, it’s use and misuse, and what happens when a limitlessly powerful individual lacks any sense of humanity. Tori and David struggle through out the entire film to hold onto their power and authority over Brandon as his parents, but their superiority is an illusion. A 12 year old child is as powerful as we know Superman to be and as evil as we know the Devil to be, which is why the moment in which he survives David’s attempt to kill him is so especially terrifying.
This climax is intense and well executed, while both actors each deliver the scenes without dialogue. Their facial expressions leave us with everything we need to know. Brandon's expression transitions from betrayal to fury, while David’s transitions from remorse to terror and Tori’s from denial to horror. Through out this sequence, we fully understand each character arc and their purpose. Both David and Tori had wanted to be blessed with a child by saving Brandon, but instead breathed life into a curse... and perhaps even the whole world's undoing.
The film concludes with Brandon racing home using his super speed to search for Tori, who recalls the only time she’s ever seen Brandon bleed: after cutting himself on the ship he came to Earth in. She races to the farm, breaking a piece off the ship literally seconds before he finds her. She distracts him with sentiments of love and acceptance, but just as she’s about to stab him, he stops her. Furious, Brandon blasts off into the sky with Tori in his arms. Above the clouds, Tori’s fingers graze Brandon’s cheek lovingly. All she ever wanted was a son, to believe that he could be a hero and use his powers for good... like Superman. Brandon looks back at her with a dull and emotionless expression, clearly lacking any form of empathy or remorse for humanity, even in his own mother, now that he knows he is something superior. He lets her go. Tori plummets back down to the farm while a commercial plane heads towards Brandon.
Finally, we hear news anchors claim that a plane has crashed into the Beyer’s farm and killed both David and Tori, as well as the 280 passengers aboard. Sitting on the edge of an ambulance, seemingly unbothered, is a smirking young Brandon Beyers. And cut to black. Although the first few acts of this movie are only sprinkled with light doses of suspense, the sequence in which Tori finds Brandon’s sketchbook and David tries to kill him in the woods is enough to get your heart pounding like you're there yourself. I’d recommend watching "Brightburn" if you are a genuine fan of both the horror and superhero genres. Visionary director David Yarovesky and producer James Gunn, father of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s "Guardians of the Galaxy", create an interesting recipe that includes critical aspects of both genres, while also delivering a heart wrenching story about family and the bond, or lack there of, between parents and their children and the consequences of limitless power.
Watch the trailer for "Brightburn" here: