BRIGHTBURN **** USA 2019 Dir: David Yarovesky. 90 mins
Produced by James Gunn (whose regular muse Michael Rooker cameos at the very end) and written by Brian & Mark Gunn, this horrific inversion of SUPERMAN – named after the small town in which it unfolds – has a loving, childless couple (David Denman, Elizabeteh Banks) bringing up an alien baby who landed near their home. When puberty kicks in, the kid (Jackson A Dunn, balancing dashes of humanity with understated arrogance) starts employing his other-worldly powers to exact violent revenge on those who tick him off – displaying super-strength and the ability to fly while donning a red cape and mask. The great high concept is awarded flab-free treatment, with a refreshingly trim running time for 2019 and exposition on the move. There are plenty of expected references (some more subtle than others) to SUPERMAN and other DC creations, though it works best as a modern-day spin on both paedophobic horror and the Stephen King-spawned cycle of horror films about alienated adolescents with potentially murderous mental / physical powers. Young Brandon’s show-off use of knowledge in class echoes a memorable scene with the adolescent Antichrist in DAMIEN: OMEN II (both boys find a sneery cockiness in the realisation of the power they have over everyone else), while the sequence in which Denman and Banks acknowledge his lack of sick days directly mimics a key scene from the original OMEN. The set pieces are marvellously gruesome, including a show-stopping car crash and a wince-inducing bout of ocular trauma, and the ending follows the downbeat template of THE OMEN and its spawn. As you would expect from a story about a couple who have kept their alien son’s spaceship hidden in their barn, Denman and Banks have some potentially absurd dialogue to work with – but, in a film that plays its horrors completely straight, they do a decent job with mostly reactive roles.
Review by Steven West