Jackson A. Dunn plays Brandon Breyer, a young farm boy who discovers extraordinary abilities — and begins using them to unfortunately disastrous results.
We need to talk about Brandon
Fiel Estrella (The Philippine Star) - June 1, 2019 - 12:00am

The genre-bending premise of ‘Brightburn’ paints a damning portrait of entitlement and accountability.

MANILA, Philippines — Watching Brightburn, you can’t help but try to categorize it according to different subgenres it could technically fit under. There’s superhero horror, but also alien invasion, perhaps even slasher. It’s easier, of course, to just describe it laconically according to its basic conceit: “What if Superman were evil?”

Starring Elizabeth Banks, David Denman and Jackson A. Dunn in the title role, the film opens as the Breyers’ attempts at conceiving a child are interrupted when a spaceship crashes in the woods near their farm. Cut to a decade or so later, and they’ve become parents to Brandon, a bright if timid young boy, who is revealed to have been found by the Breyers in the crashed spaceship as a baby.

Everything about Brandon screams superhero origin story, right down to his alliterative name. There are the requisite scenes of discovering his abilities and being underestimated by the world around him because he’s different and weird. He quickly learns that he’s invincible and he’s strong. At night, however, he mumbles along to strange voices in an alien language in sleep, and is drawn to a mysterious part of the barn that keeps glowing red?— the first sign, perhaps, that something is not quite right.

His powers and his inner turmoil begin to manifest themselves in increasingly disturbing ways. Brandon, for instance, throws an alarming fit on his birthday when his aunt and uncle gift him with a shotgun, and his parents understandably want to restrict his use of it. He indulges in similarly disconcerting and (it must be said) bratty behavior, from threatening adults around him to extremely unhealthy ways of dealing with rejection from a girl he likes. Things, as to be expected, only get worse from there — and it’s all simply because he’s not getting what he wants.

The central character of Brightburn is not a tragic figure, even with the angst of having to deal with bullying and trying to find out who he is and where he came from. His mother mentions multiple times that he is “special,” and the world is “for him.” He can do no wrong in her eyes, and she will defend him to the ends of the earth, refusing to account for the signs and the anomalies that are right in front of her. It’s jarring and yet all too familiar: a narrative that has framed too many real-life examples of cruelty and violence in America, often tied to a toxic culture of entitlement and bravado.

As a horror film, Brightburn has plenty going for it that works in surprising ways. There’s less certainty as to whether it succeeds in what it’s ultimately trying to do and convey. Official material describes Brandon as “more sinister” than the hero he’s modeled after, raising expectations for an otherworldly and larger-than-life villain protagonist, someone to fear and perhaps somehow hold in awe. Unfortunately, the result is more petty and mean-spirited than truly creepy or evil. It makes sense in some ways — he is a 12-year-old boy, after all — but one can’t help but think that the creators of Brightburn could have done so much more, and made a stronger statement, with a character like this.

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