Superhero movies have always been in the periphery of American cinema. Blockbusters like 1978’s Superman and Tim Burton’s Batman became cultural icons. Today, the Marvel Cinematic Universe packs in theaters to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Superhero movies have become so accepted they have branched beyond their heroic confines.
Guardians of the Galaxy directed by James Gunn was responsible for the MCU’s tonal change. Produced by Gunn, Brightburn adds another element to the superhero genre: horror. Movies like Blade and Ghost Rider have blended the two genres together, but those movies failed to get the mix right. Brightburn is the perfect template for future superhero horror movies.
The plot purposely sounds familiar. The childless Breyers live on their farm and are trying to add to their family. One night, a meteor crashes onto their land. The Breyers raise the boy they find in the wreckage as their own. On the cusp of becoming a teenager, Brandon Breyer learns he has abilities that make him superior.
Brightburn is exactly what it bills itself as: a superhero horror story. The movie does a great job of never leaning too far in one direction. The audience gets a tight origin story that explains Brandon’s powers and teases possible weaknesses. There are also many truly horrific moments that will please any fan of scary movies.
When the two genres come together, the film is at its best. Watching Brandon uses his heat vision and powers of flight is equally terrifying and impressive. The audience is not seeing a typical supervillain. They are seeing a being with a different moral compass.
This has never been done in superhero movies. There have been anti heroes and villains who think they are doing what is right, but Brandon is an entirely different entity. He is simply doing what comes natural. Early in the film, his father tells him to follow his urges and that is exactly what Brandon is doing. Good and evil do not fit into the equation by Brandon’s thinking.
Brightburn is a unique movie due to this decision. The audience knows that death, destruction, and conquest are evil, but Brandon obviously does not see things the same way. It is an interesting take that makes tale more engaging. There is never a point the movie goer can look at Brandon with empathy or understanding. Superhero films give audiences men and women who fight for good. BrightBurn asks who decides what is “good”?
The film also does a great job of making typical horror tropes interesting. It has its jump scares and spooky music, but the other worldly powers add a new layer to everything that is going on. Brightburn also manages to convey a creepy tone without ever going into full blown horror. Again, it is subverting audience expectations making everything that happens new and exciting.
Arguably, the best thing about Brightburn is how it constantly toys with audience expectations. When a young heroic being is corrupted, the story can only move in a few directions. A good counterpart is introduced, a loved one talks them off the ledge, or there is that moment of realization when they see all they have done is wrong. Brightburn goes in an unexpected direction that is satisfying and also proves this new genre is ripe for risk taking. In the end, the audience is rewarded with a a unique story.
Superhero movies have been around long enough to where everyone has an idea of what to expect. In recent years, the genre has been willing to take on a sillier slant to keep things fresh, but the overall tone has not changed. Audiences have accepted superhero movies and are now ready for the next step. We still want our big budget spectacles that allow for escapism, but Brightburn proves the next step in superhero films is a terrifying one.
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