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With: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Matt Jones, Meredith Hagner, Emmie Hunter
Written by: Brian Gunn, Mark Gunn
Directed by: David Yarovesky
MPAA Rating: R for horror violence/bloody images, and language
Running Time: 91
Date: 05/24/2019

Brightburn (2019)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Super Spew

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This attempt at a fresh take on superhero movies falters just after its setup, never really exploring its potentially interesting theme; instead it just becomes a gory Omen knockoff with superpowers.

In Brightburn, Kansas couple Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman) wish and hope for a child, but their dream is denied until one eventful night. Years later, their sweet, smart son Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) turns 12 and suddenly, everything changes. He begins to act strangely, and so Kyle decides to have "the talk" with his son.

After, Brandon starts to exhibit powers, such as super-strength and speed, and heat vision. He begins using them to get what he wants, and to protect himself, up to the point of killing. He even devises a signature to leave at the scene of his crimes, as if proud of his handiwork. Meanwhile, a secret hidden in the family's barn reveals to him three words that will determine his dark path.

Produced by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) and written by his cousin Mark Gunn and brother Brian Gunn, Brightburn does have a terrific idea. What if, say, Superman's adoptive parents in Smallville failed to instill him with a sense of right and wrong, of generosity and kindness, of empathy? The answer is that he would have become a little monster, simply destroying everything. And that's about it. ("Sometimes when bad things happen to people, it's for a good reason," the character argues.)

The curious thing is that the parents, played by Banks and Denman, don't seem to be terrible people, and they more or less earn our sympathy — for a time, anyway. As for Brandon, after he takes his first life, he becomes impossible to root for. Indeed, it's unclear exactly what we're supposed to root for. It becomes a basic slasher movie, but without the simplicity of one; it's a tragedy demoted to a gorefest.

At least The Omen — and, even better, Joe Dante's "It's a Good Life" episode of Twilight Zone: The Movie — dug a little deeper into the "evil child" theme. Brightburn instead stays on the surface, content to place blood and guts over characters and ideas.

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