While the trailer for this film played, Batman smirked somewhere in a dark corner of the world with an “I told you so” grin. For me, ‘Brightburn’ is easily among the most awaited films this year, and it is commendable that simply by virtue of the concept of its premise, it builds its draw; rather, a question — a big “what if” that I am sure most of us have wondered about. Superman, among the most easily recognised icons across the world, is a being of supreme power, and I can damn well guarantee that if he’d existed for real, in this world, he’d be worshipped as a god.
As Amanda Waller put it in the rather dismal supervillain teamup ‘Suicide Squad’ in 2016, “We got lucky with Superman. He shared or values. The next one might not.” Well, sharing values is putting it rather mildly, but ‘Superman’ as a character had been designed to be the very epitome of hope, a beacon of goodness. That extreme goodness is what invites conflict, causing a number of writers to have their fun with the character, often adding shades of grey to the character to see how people would deal with a slightly corrupted Superman.
Jump to 2019, and ‘Brightburn’ turns that grey into tar black: it puts a savoury (and scary) twist to the all known origin tale and turns that “what if” on its head. This is the alien that crash landed from another planet in a pod in a field to be adopted by a childless couple, but turns out to be a malevolent entity. Ripe, ripe premise for a horror movie, that too twisting an instantly recognisable icon’s origin story, and churning out decent, often times horrific, scares out of it. I’d call that a creative win, if anything else, and as I said earlier, the draw is also huge.
Superman is never explicitly mentioned once in the story, even by way of a tease or Easter egg or pop culture reference, meaning that this is a completely new story, giving an alternate, evil version of the all too well known origin story for the American superhero. There are more than a few clever references to past Superman films that amplify said twist in the tale. While the cape and the alien escape pod visible even in the trailer are rather obvious, there is an eerily similar shot of a sunrise taken in low focal length from the fields somewhere halfway down the movie, similar to the one used in both ‘Justice League’ and ‘Man of Steel’.
To add to that, when the news of Brandon’s alien origins is finally broken to him, his mother tells him (similar to Jonathan Kent in ‘Man of Steel’) that they believed he was “sent there for a reason”. Unsubtle nods, but all of these instances point to an eerie kind of self-awareness of its own genesis, without seeming to be taunting or dismissive of a world icon or his respective properties. Pointing it out to state that the writers Mark and Brian Gunn deserve credit for that. However, for now, let’s delve into the narrative of this textbook supernatural horror film that scores by virtue of its inventive concept.