Brightburn has ten miles of potential for every thousand paces worth of payoff. The idea behind it is pure gold: An alien boy crashes on a Kansas farm, where he is raised by a loving, WASPy couple. The twist on this Superman legend is that this otherworldly immigrant eschews his paladin-pure upbringing in favor some Pazuzu-infused megalomania. How would Ma and Pa Kent respond if Clark displayed some demonic tendencies? Brightburn has some sturdy performances and a few scares, but mostly this is a paper airplane that spends 90 minutes flittering slowly to the ground.
The movie begins with Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman), a couple who lives on a sprawl of Kansas farmland. Infertility books are strewn about their home, and she prays for a child of their own. Her wish gets soon granted in the smoldering wreckage of a spacecraft. Tori plucks out an adorable baby boy, and the couple resolves to raise him as their own. Everything is pretty much peaches and cream until
Damien Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) hits puberty and a few dormant superpowers start to emerge. He quickly breaks bad and embarks on an apocalyptic bender of wrath and destruction, while his parents can only watch in horror.
Brightburn loads a lot of plot brownies into the oven, and not all of them get a chance to cook properly: Brandon is an intellectually curious boy who gets bullied at school, but none of his classmates are developed past one-dimensional simpletons. This includes Caitlyn (Emmie Hunter), Brandon’s crush who displays sympathy for his precociousness, but this relationship is never fully explored, either. Caitlyn becomes a lightning rod for Brandon’s rage and burgeoning abilities, mainly for the sake of plot convenience. He turns creepy and she becomes rightfully repulsed, so the fact that she stuck up for him once doesn’t really add any dramatic heft to the story. Also, Brandon quickly resorts to clever, pathological lies to cover up his crimes. The movie never quite explains how an otherwise docile, loving child could suddenly turn into an agile con artist. Do his new powers include the ability to effortlessly scam his parents? Could lying be a superpower in of itself? This movie left me with so many questions.
Still, this Burn has a few bright spots. Elizabeth Banks is a powerful presence as a mother who constantly defends her son, even after it becomes clear he’s…you know, an invulnerable demon. Denman endows his well-intentioned jock with just the right amount of shambling charm. Dunn supplies his evil superboy with a malevolent, Stanley Kubrick stare that adds some real creepiness. Director David Yarovesky creates and keeps an appropriately tense atmosphere, and there are some truly jolting moments peppered into the film. Unfortunately, Brightburn ends up feeling too compact and contained. While most movies overstay their welcome, this one would’ve definitely benefitted from some more room to run with its ideas.
90 minutes. R.