[Screen It]


(2019) (Elizabeth Banks, Jackson A. Dunn) (R)

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Superhero/Horror: A couple must contend with their 12-year-old son, who they found as an infant in a crashed spaceship and have raised like a normal kid, now changing into someone with superpowers...and a vindictive streak.
Tori (ELIZABETH BANKS) and Kyle Breyer (DAVID DENMAN) have long wanted kids but it just hasn't happened yet. Then, one night a small spaceship crash-lands on their Kansas farm and they find a baby boy inside. Over the following years, they raise him like a normal kid, telling everyone that they adopted Brandon (JACKSON A. DUNN), who's now 12-years-old. Not even Tori's sister, Merilee (MEREDITH HAGNER) -- the school counselor -- or her husband, Noah (MATT JONES), know the truth, but even they are starting to see changes in the boy.

His parents initially chalk that up to him starting to go through puberty, but with him being drawn to the locked away spaceship wreckage they have in their barn, they start to think it might be something else. And when the boy starts exhibiting superhuman strength and other abilities traditionally reserved for superheroes and then people start being hurt and then killed in their small town, they come to realize they might have a dangerous problem on their hands.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
Kids can be a parent's great blessing as well as their greatest challenge and frustration, sometimes simultaneously. And that can and usually does change over the years as kids grow through the usual various stages of development. There's the newborn one where they're cute but exhausting, the terrible twos and "don't touch that" toddler years, and probably the best for most people -- the span where kids are fun, generally well-behaved and a pleasure to be around.

And then come the teen years when they seemingly become possessed by some sadistic spirit (a.k.a. puberty, hormones and everything that comes along for that transformational ride) and become moody, belligerent, drama queens and pretty much every other negative descriptor one can imagine. That said, and usually but not always, some degree of acquiescence nonetheless remains, thus allowing the parent to still get their way.

At least they don't often have the means of harming others or causing great physical damage. But that's not the case in "Brightburn," so named for the small Kansas town in which this "bad seed" story takes place. From that brief description, you might think the offering is a standard horror pic where a kid ends up possessed by one means or another and starts killing people, much to his parents' horror.

In a way, that is an accurate assessment of the script Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn have given director David Yarovesky. Yet, it's also a mixture of that and a blatant rip-off of the traditional Superman origins story. You know, where a spaceship lands on a Kansas farm, unseen by any but the childless couple that lives there, they find a human-looking baby inside, and decide to raise that child as their own without informing anyone else of the truth.

And just as is the case with the Clark Kent story, those parents, Tori and Kyle (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) eventually realize that their "adopted" son, Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn), is even more special than they've already told him. Whereas Clark used his super abilities for good and eventually became the protector of Metropolis, however, the 12-year-old here takes a decidedly different route.

Just think of Damian from "The Omen" or Regan from "The Exorcist" if they also had the ability to be faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Oh, and blast lasers from their eyes to burn a hole through people's skulls.

In most superhero origins tales, we see the main character before the transformation, then as they learn to handle their new powers, and then using those to deal with some sort of villain or calamity to save the day. But since the protagonist here is the bad guy with no real opposing counter on the opposite side, the plot has to fall back on the possessed kid horror angle to maintain the story for the rest of the film's 90 or so minute runtime.

It's okay in that regard, but the film feels like it ends up in cinematic no man's land. Not quite a full-fledged horror film and not really a superhero one (even taking into account its sudden change in plot trajectory), it's just sort of there, mostly, it seems, as an introductory chapter to something additional coming down the line.

Whether that involves a good superhero showing up to battle the bad one or our evil, soon-to-be teen becoming a super-enhanced version of the usual boogeyman is yet to be determined. What's present is decent enough to earn a slight recommendation simply for turning an all-too-familiar genre on its head, but it can't shake the feeling that it could have been so much more. "Brightburn" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed May 21, 2019 / Posted May 24, 2019

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