There’s a whole subgenre of superhero comics that came about from asking ‘what if?’ As in, what if Batman was a vampire? What if the Avengers had been around in Elizabethan England? Now David Yarovesky’s Brightburn brings that same spirit to the screen with a premise so obvious it’s amazing we haven’t seen it done before: what if Superman was a psychopath?
Screenwriters Brian and Mark Gunn (brother and cousin respectively of Guardians of the Galaxy director James, here in the role of producer) are clearly having fun inverting the tropes of Clark Kent’s childhood – particularly Man of Steel, from which the film takes plenty of visual cues. But they also have a point to make, showing us the dangers of allowing someone with superpowers to view themselves as not just special, but superior.
It’s all the more effective because the family at the centre of the story are never less than compelling. Jackson A. Dunn is delightfully unsettling as young Brandon Breyer, and the slow erosion of his humanity remains convincing throughout. Equally excellent are Elizabeth Banks and David Denman as the boy’s loving parents, struggling to accept that their son is a monster long after it’s become obvious to us.
And when Brandon finally cuts loose at the halfway point, the film truly gets to shine. Though the horror moments can feel a little perfunctory – relying too much on predictable jump scares – they’re punctuated by some of the nastiest, goriest scenes in recent memory.
The film’s closing moments tease the possibility of a kind of evil Justice League, and even though the superhero market has reached saturation point it’s a tantalising prospect. Brightburn isn’t as subversive as it thinks it is, but it’s still a satisfyingly schlocky yarn that does a lot with a simple premise and a modest budget.
CAST: Jackson A. Dunn, Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Matt Jones, Meredith Hagner
DIRECTOR: David Yarovesky
WRITERS: Brian Gunn, Mark Gunn
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?