What if baby Superman crashed onto Earth and turned out to be an evil bastard instead of a do-gooder? That’s the idea behind Brightburn, a horror show that doesn’t have a clue about what to do with a clever premise. Produced by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy), who unfortunately left the screenwriting to his less-talented brother Brian and their cousin Mark — it’s not a good day for nepotism — this superhero/scary-movie mash-up never catches fire. Director David Yarovesky (The Hive) doesn’t just demand audiences to suspend disbelief. He requires a near-complete cutoff of oxygen to the brain.
A botch job like this should not happen to a talented actress like Elizabeth Banks. Yet there she is as Tori Breyer, a woman painfully eager to have a baby with her husband, Kyle (The Office‘s David Denman). Books about infertility line the shelves of their Brightburn, Kansas, farmhouse. So when a spaceship crashes near the barn, complete with an alien infant in it, the couple take the cutie in and tell folks he’s adopted. It worked for Ma and Pa Kent when they raised baby Clark. Why not the Breyers?
And for a while all is well. Until the boy they name Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn, doing creepy to the hilt) turns 12. It appears that puberty is a bitch, which makes the child’s eyes gleam red, as well as allowing him to levitate and demonstrate super strength. Suddenly, this good son and ideal student starts acting out, getting up in the middle of the night to go toward the barn, where something is vibrating and glowing in that padlocked cellar. Come on, did his parents really feel the need to keep the kid’s space pod handy? Wouldn’t sane people have destroyed the evidence?
This is not a movie built to withstanding even the flimsiest questions; it’s much too busy bringing on a series of escalating acts of R-rated violence to worry about logic. Brandon flies off to visit the bedroom of a pretty classmate (Emmie Hunter), who naturally is freaked out. When he crushes her hand on the school athletic field, things get worse, especially for the girl’s angry mother (Becky Wahlstrom), a waitress at the local diner. She feels the wrath of Brandon. And what he does to the noisy chickens on his farm is far bloodier.
The voices from the barn keep telling this angry superpowered tween to “take the world.” But the brat seems insanely worried whenever anyone threatens to tell his parents about his weird behavior. The school guidance counselor (Meredith Hagner), Tori’s sister, gets one of Brandon’s nighttime visits, as does her husband (Matt Jones) in his truck. Cue the massacres. And when the little masked avenger begins leaving his signature in blood — it’s a double B — even the clueless Breyers begin to notice.
Where does Brandon come from, and what motivates his shocking change in behavior? Those answers belong in another, way better movie. Brightburn essentially devolves into a war between adoptive parents and their malevolent spawn. It’s “The Bad Seed meets The Omen,” and it’s predictable, plodding and dim-witted every step of the way. To be fair, if you like watching someone pull a shard of glass out of her eyeball, you won’t be disappointed. But there’s a difference between gory and scary that this movie doesn’t seem to grasp. The ending suggests a sequel may be in the offing. It was the only moment that will truly fill you with terror.