...But fizzles beneath its own discombobulated mess.
Admittedly, I may have overhyped this one for myself. I don't watch trailers so all I knew was, "imagine if when Superman was just a boy, discovering his powers, and he ended up using them for evil." Sounded pretty sweet to me. And for the most part it was. Unfortunately, this Monday Morning Quarterback had a furrowed brow during some scenes.
Directed by David Yarovesky and written by Brian and Mark Gunn (James Gunn's brothers) comes the story of Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn). We pick up on a Brandon that does not know he is not earthborn. Parents of Brandon, Kyle (David Denman) and Tori Breyer (Elizabeth Banks) have told Brandon that he was adopted. Which is probably a less unnerving route to go than telling a young child that one night when they were trying to make a baby, your spaceship crash landed on our property. And you looked human so we took you in. A blessing! Soon, Brandon will find out that he possesses powers that only he and he alone have. And that's basically Act One. Not a bad set up in the slightest.
Act Two is where we get a little muddled. Several times throughout the middle portion of the story, Brightburn struggles to define itself. Is it a tongue and cheek horror film? Is it meant to be serious? The constant indecision was troublesome for this particular viewer. As Brandon discovers his powers and death begins to ensue, I was confused as to who to cheer for. Do I want Brandon to murder the town folk? The town folk are the dopiest of hayseeds, including his parents, and I SHOULD want them dead. However, it doesn't feel like that's what the writers want me to want. Do I want Kyle and Tori to murder their "adopted" evil alien son? It doesn't feel right to cheer for that outcome either. Several times as blood rained within the screen, I was torn between the stellar visuals and misguided intent. Perplexing to say the least.
By the time we make it to Act 3, I'm invested but slightly annoyed. Which is probably why the best parts of the movie didn't mean as much to me as they could have. It's here where I thought the scenes in front of me would've been better utilized in Act Two building a creepy fantasy tale or a humorous tongue and cheek gorefest. And to that point, I'm such a cinephile that I could care less if it chose to be one or the other so long as it made a definitive decision. Such a bummer too because I feel like the exceptional acting by Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Matt Jones, Meredith Hagner, and Gregory Alan Williams is lost amidst the film trying to find it's footing. Especially the scenes between Dunn, Denman, and Banks.
Having said all that, there's a lot to love here. Michael Dallatorre's cinematography was strong. Smooth editing by Andrew S. Eisen and Peter Gvozdas. The costume and wardrobe department, and the art direction, specifically for Brandon's costume, was amazing. And quite possibly the strongest technical aspect of the film, the special effects and visual effects department.
On paper this is STILL a story that can be really really good. If a sequel never comes, like the post-credit scene infers, fingers crossed on a reboot 20 years from now. In the end, I came for the story and stayed for the murder.