Supers enter the horror field in “Brightburn”
Updated: Jan 16, 2020
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn ) crash lands as a baby on the Breyer's farm in Kansas. Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and her husband raise the infant as their own. Life is good until it begins to change on his 12th birthday. “The emotional core of the movie is a story about mother and son.” — David Yarovesky, director
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2019; R for horror violence/bloody images, and profanity; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Apple (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: Two featurettes: “Nature versus Nurture” and “Hero-Horror!”
WHAT IF Superman was bad instead of good? That’s the premise of “Brightburn,” directed by David Yarovesky and written by cousins Brian and Mark Gunn.
It's the story of an alien baby, whose ship crash lands on the Breyer farm outside of the peaceful Midwestern town of Brightburn. Just like Clark Kent’s adoptive parents, Tori and Kyle Breyer, played by Elizabeth Banks and David Denman, have long wanted a child. The loving couple adopt the foundling as their own and raise him to be a good American boy.
“When I read the script, I felt like this was a movie about parenting and about how to parent a difficult child.” — Elizabeth Banks, “Tori Breyer”
Except Brandon, played by Jackson A. Dunn, doesn’t go with the flow. He starts out as a loving kid. He’s a bit of a loner who doesn’t quite fit in with his peers, but all seems normal. Then he hits puberty and begins to hear voices emanating from the hidden space ship in the Breyer’s derelict barn. His personality begins to change. Brandon, 12, becomes less caring, and more angry and aggressive. In fact, take all the Superboy stories you may have seen or read, and flip them into the tale of a burgeoning supervillain. There’s no turning back once he crushes surrogate Lana Lang’s hand – “Brightburn’s” Caitlyn played by Emmie Hunter.
Tori and her husband, Kyle (David Denman) hear the alien craft crash from their bedroom. Years later after trouble begins, Kyle has a vision of that night. “Kyle and Tori do the best they can to raise this kid, but he just starts to change, and there’s nothing that they can really do about it. [They think] if they try harder, maybe things will be different. But, ultimately, when the reality hits, it hits them hard.” — David Denman
10 years later
The Breyers have hidden the baby's craft deep in their old barn, where no one can find it. Not even Brandon. But as the boy matures, forces from the ship begin to call to him. When he goes wandering, Tori tracks him there. “We always assume these heroes are here for good … and they’re going to help us. The simple question this film asks is ‘What if they don’t?’” — Elizabeth Banks
“He’s compelled by his nature to do something truly awful …We wanted to do a movie that was a superhero origin story, but that was a horror film.” — James Gunn, producer
No one ever said puberty was easy, but his boy isn’t just bad, he’s twisted and evil. And predictable, which is “Brightburn’s” biggest problem. Once viewers key into the "joke," the film is pretty much done except for its gory special effects, and watching how he kills everyone. A splinter of glass pierces a woman’s eye; a friendly character is slowly killed in a car crash that separates his jaw from his skull. Good times – right down to the dominant red, white and blue – Superman’s traditional colors – in Brandon’s bedroom, and a serial killer costume he designs himself.
Michael Rooker shows up early in the end credits as “The Big T,” a streaming broadcaster reporting that more supervillain killers are on the loose.
“The fun of this movie is taking horror scares and bringing them to superhero movies.” — David Yarovesky, director
(1 & 2) Brandon begins to discover his powers - invulnerable skin here - as the family prepares to celebrate his 12th birthday. (3) Tori and Kyle discuss their son's troubling changes. (4) Kyle takes Brandon hunting. “One of the interesting things is all the primary players see the theme as something different, thinking it’s really about nature versus nurture, what really makes a person a person.” — James Gunn, producer
“Brightburn” has an old school horror film look to it in both 1080p and 2160p (2.35:1 aspect ratio). It’s deliberate. “The theme we had from the beginning was this was a low budget horror film that gets invaded by a big budget,” says Cinematographer Michael “Mike D” Dallatorre. “We used Arri Alexas, with Panavision T-Series anamorphics to shoot the movie to help us give, I think, a more cinematic look.”
Color is warm and natural, with good detail revealed in low-light interior and dark exterior scenes. Red pops during space ship scenes, in Brandon’s eyes as he goes off the deep end, and eventual buckets of blood. The farmhouse, barn and diner, where families congregate, reveal plenty of detail.
The Ultra 4K was made from a 2K intermediate upscaled to 4K. Detail and texture is slightly more pronounced, but HDR color toning drives “Brightburn” up a few clicks. Even so, streaming diminishes the experience. We didn’t find a big difference between the two, so viewers should be satisfied with either version.
“Baby and toddler Brandon footage was actually VHS film shot 20 years ago by Jackson Dunn’s mother.” — David Yarovesky, director
The HD version has a fine DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, while 4K delivers an excellent Atmos track, utilizing height effects during the explosions that arrive near the climax. Dialogue is clear and clean on both tracks, as are ambient, mood-setting background effects.
Tim Williams wrote the original score. He’s also composed the score for “Get Out,” and worked on “It,” “The Exorcist” TV series, now playing on Hulu, the “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise and “Deadpool.”
“['Brightburn'] was more than just balancing horror and superhero. There are some hard emotional hits you don’t usually see in [either genre] … This is where having a good collaborative relationship with the director was really useful because I could touch base about whether it was more important to play the tension, the horror, or the emotion of a scene.” — Tim Williams, composer, in an interview for Nightmarish Conjurings
End credits roll with “Bad Guy” by siblings Billie Elish O’Connell and Finneas O’Connell. Great choice!
(1) Brandon designs his own power costume. (2) Tori finds her son in the barn again, and sees the connection between him and the alien craft. (3) Brandon crushes Caitlyn's hand during a trust exercise at school. Played by Emmie Hunter, she betrays him by allowing him to fall. (4) Brandon's powers take over. “Brandon is heavily conflicted. He tries to see [the voices] as more of an evil force. But when everyone in his normal life starts betraying him, he starts to see it as something that’s more comforting.” — Jackson A. Dunn
The bonus features from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment are very good, filled with interviews, technical data and anecdotes. Commentary with David Yarovesky, his costume designer/wife Autumn Steed, and Michael Dallatorre has plenty of personality – sometimes too much. In fact, every time Dallatorre begins to give us tech detail, Yarovesky interrupts him. Steed uses profanity and her husband likes to point it out. It becomes tiresome. You’re a filmmaker, Yarovesky, not a comedian!
Two featurettes, “Nature versus Nurture” and “Hero-Horror!” have interviews from filmmakers and the cast, and cover inspirations, making-of moments, and themes. The latter also explores taking classic horror and superhero tropes, and turning them into a story.
“Quick Burns Social Vignettes” are very short, but interesting promotional interviews with Elizabeth Banks, James Gunn and Yarovesky.
“The idea comes from [writer Brian Gunn], who has an adopted son. He had this fear that when you invite a child into your house, you’re inviting a stranger in. Regardless of whether it’s adopted, you’re concerned about who that child is gonna turn out to be.” — Simon Hatt, executive producer
So, yes – “Brightburn” isn’t as funny as the filmmakers comments might have us think. It was created for a world at war, where mass shootings at schools, malls, festivals and the workplace have become the norm. Life, with all its flaws, was expected to improve after World War II. Superman gave us hope.
"Brightburn's" actors are very good throughout, and the story is smart enough to leave us thinking.
— Kay Reynolds
(1) In costume, Brandon goes after Caitlyn's mother, Erica (Becky Wahlstrom), who he feels turned the girl against him. (2) Sheriff Deever (Gregory Alan Williams) goes out to the Breyer farm when Erica goes missing. (3) Brandon destroys another "enemy" with heat vision. (4) The sheriff and deputy respond to Tori's 911 call after Brandon attacks her.