Brightburn (***) could be great, but isn’t

Brightburn – 2019

Director David Yarovesky
Screenplay Mark Gunn, Brian Gunn
Starring Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Matt Jones, Meridith Hagner

There is a point in the first third of Brightburn where its obvious there is something going on with 12 year old Brandon Breyer (Dunn). What it is, the film makers have shielded to an extent. We know his parents, Tori and Kyle (Banks and Denman) are adoptive. They were having trouble conceiving and all of the sudden a spaceship landed in the field of their farm in Brightburn, Kansas.

So far he’s been a normal, if smart, kid. A series of events occur and all of the sudden a lawnmower goes flying across the field. Do either of his parents find this strange? Hard to say.

The very next scene we see everyone celebrating his birthday in a public place. Not a word is discussed about the broken mower. Everyone is happy until Brandon discover’s he’s not going to have access to the rifle he is given by his aunt and uncle (Hagner and Jones).

The ride we’re given by the plot feels like the New York New York roller coaster ride in Las Vegas when it first came out. Harrowing, herky jerky and it feels like it is not completely safe. Did anyone test the ride ahead of time?

The acting in Brightburn is as good as the direction and the editing allows it to be. There are several actors that play their role in a manner befitting of a small town existence. Denman, Hagner and Jones especially at one with the rural setting.

Banks shoulders much of the dramatic weight of the mother who is obsessed with the love of her life as a mother. Does the fact that Tori’s son is increasingly drawn to dark things while people of the town get hurt, killed or go missing around him shake her? The viewer is ready to see what happens. Communication and time with Kyle is so sporadic it’s hard to figure out where they are at each step of the way.

As the son of another planet, Dunn so surely moves from innocent to malevolent, it is shocking to see. His performance demands better than the film gives. The escalation of events feels like it jumps back and forth between definite deal breaker and Brandon just doesn’t feel well today.

There is an event at the school so shocking that it demands to see the child removed from the town for its own protection. The resulting 2 day suspension tells me that writers the Gunn brothers don’t recognize what qualifies as a menace to society, much less having the punishment fit the crime.

As with most of the Gunn productions, there is a certain amount of screen time dedicated to gross factor. It’s not clear that it benefits the story to go back and forth between some well developed scares and just seeing something repulsive because someone paid you to do create the effect.

The film is a frustrating one because the elements are all there for a really good film. It’s not an original story, it’s literally “what if Superman were a bad guy.” I really enjoyed seeing The Office alums Denman and Jones getting significant screen time.

Kansas really does seem more like Georgia, but that’s okay. One gets the feeling that number of films filmed in Georgia will diminish in the next few years, so we should enjoy it for all of the Midwestern glory it’s supposed to represent.

That the story fails to materialize in a cohesive way has as much to do with pacing as anything. There are a lot of nice pieces. Just no one seems to know how they all fit together. The result feels choppy and not as scary as it should be for the viewer.

(*** out of *****)

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