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In Theaters: BRIGHTBURN (2019)

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BRIGHTBURN
(US - 2019)

Directed by David Yarovesky. Written by Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn. Cast: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Meredith Hagner, Matt Jones, Gregory Alan Williams, Becky Wahlstrom, Emmie Hunter, Annie Humphrey, Stephen Blackehart. (R, 90 mins)

Very nearly a casualty of alt-right conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich's attempt to engineer the cancellation of executive producer and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY helmer James Gunn over some offensive tweets in his past as some kind of "both sides" revenge for Roseanne Barr losing her TV show, BRIGHTBURN is an intriguing superhero deconstruction that owes a tremendous debt to SUPERMAN. Following the Man of Steel template starting with a childless couple discovering a human-looking alien child and raising it as their own, BRIGHTBURN doesn't take long to ponder the hypothetical of young Clark Kent discovering his inner Damien Thorn and running with it. Unable to successfully conceive a child, happily married Tori (Elizabeth Banks, who starred in Gunn's SLITHER) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman) are at least enjoying the continued attempts when they're interrupted by a crash in the woods behind their farmhouse in rural Brightburn, Kansas. Cut to the 12th birthday of their adopted son Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn), who's discovering new things about himself, namely the extent of his physical strength and an uncontrolled rage at those who wrong him. He's drawn to a glowing, rumbling light in the barn--which he's been forbidden to enter and has obeyed that order until now--where something locked under the floorboards is sending him a message and frequently putting him in a trance. Tori and Kyle write it off to the onset of puberty, and after finding some hidden photos of naked women and autopsies under his mattress, Kyle addresses his son's confusion by telling him that sexual feelings and "touching it" are normal and that he shouldn't be ashamed.






Emboldened by the conversation ("Good talk," well-meaning Kyle says after the awkward interaction), Brandon begins acting on his urges by stalking cute classmate Caitlyn (Emmie Hunter), even entering through her bedroom window and watching her from behind the curtain. He later breaks her wrist after she calls him a "pervert" in front of other kids. As his mood becomes darker and his artistic scribblings more violent in nature, Tori still keeps attributing it to changing hormones. This is even after the body count starts rising in Brightburn, starting with the slaughter of Kyle's chickens all the way to Caitlyn's Brandon-hating mother (Becky Wahlstrom), followed by threats to the school guidance counselor (Meredith Hagner), who happens to be Tori's sister. Only Kyle seems to realize that maybe the innocent baby they rescued from a crashed space pod that they've kept locked away in a secret room in the barn for a dozen years--now donning a cape and a creepy, crimson executioner's mask and hood and demonstrating decidedly superhuman powers--might be a force they can no longer control.






Written by Gunn's brother Brian and their cousin Mark, and directed by David Yarovesky, whose 2015 indie horror film THE HIVE starred James and Brian's brother Sean Gunn, BRIGHTBURN takes a novel approach to the superhero concept by mashing it up with the "evil child" subgenre, which is having a comeback year already--in terms of quantity if not commercial success--with THE PRODIGY and THE HOLE IN THE GROUND. Its use of Brandon's discovery of his true nature as a metaphor for puberty is intriguing, and the film contains some inventively gruesome kills that rely on some good old-fashioned practical gore effects, but the more it goes on, the more difficult it is to buy the stupidity of the Breyers, particularly Tori, who's still making desperate excuses for Brandon's behavior even after the sheriff (Gregory Alan Williams) has some pretty damning evidence that her son is pre-teen serial killer (though they really don't do anything different from Ma and Pa Kent, who definitely lucked out by having a better kid who didn't give them any trouble). Banks and Denman are good, despite being saddled with lunkheaded characters (how does Kyle possibly think his solution to dealing with Brandon is going to work?), and Dunn, who resembles a young Paul Dano, has an effectively dead glare in his eyes. Yarovesky stages a couple of solid scare sequences, with one involving a glass shard and an eyeball that might even have fans of Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE squirming a little. The ending is a bit frustrating, only because it leaves the door open for a sequel, a feeling that's solidified shortly after by an early closing credits stinger featuring a surprise cameo from a major James Gunn BFF as a ranting, Alex Jones-type cable news nutjob making references to Rainn Wilson's character in Gunn's 2010 superhero black comedy SUPER, vaguely hinting at yet another goddamn "cinematic universe." Can't anybody just make a fucking stand-alone movie anymore?



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