Brightburn applies a frightening approach to the superhero mythos, but Brandon’s turn to evil may actually be because he gives up on empathy.
In Brightburn—a very dark, superhero horror movie—Brandon’s turn to the dark side is much more complex than it appears, prompting audiences to question the real reason why he became evil.
James Gunn has made a considerable mark on the superhero genre, but his roots go back to horror, which makes him the perfect producer for a project like Brightburn. David Yarovesky’s movie looks at a young boy who crashes onto Earth and gets adopted by a kindly couple. The duo are initially excited, but as Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) grows older, they begin to suspect that his extraterrestrial roots are causing some sinister changes in their son.
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The idea of an evil Superman is absolutely terrifying; Brightburn tries to put a horror perspective on the superhero mythos in an innovative way. It’s common for superheroes to struggle with their new powers. However, Brandon is just a child who suddenly discovers he has the strength to eradicate the entire human race without even using his hands. Brightburn depicts Brandon’s powers and destructive turn as a fate that he can’t avoid, but the interactions that he experiences with humans might actually have set him on a destructive path much earlier.
Brightburn gets a lot of mileage out of how it mixes together the typical tropes of a superhero origin story with the horror genre. In many ways Brandon’s story runs parallel to that of Superman, but even before Brandon shows any signs of super powers or dark motives, his parents are already worried about his chances of a normal life. He’s the subject of bullying, anxiety, and a deep feeling that he doesn’t belong, which no one tries to argue. It’s not until 12 years after Brandon’s crash landing on the planet that he begins to show signs that he’s different. Brightburn posits that it’s Brandon’s exposure to his spaceship and its message to “take the world” that’s responsible for his plummet into villainy. It certainly looks as if this spaceship reprograms Brandon and that its purpose is to trigger this killer instinct within him. However, it’s likely that Brandon had already made up his mind on what to do with humanity before this point, but he just didn’t have the power to do anything about it.
Brightburn’s entire narrative explores nature versus nurture and if the only difference between a superhero and a villain is environmental circumstances. It’s a scary and fresh angle for how to let science fiction inform horror. Brandon feels like an outcast from the moment his parents begin to raise him. He may not yet know his true importance, but he knows that he’s not human and can tell that he’s different from those around him. A much more chilling scenario is one where Brandon’s insecurity and fear over these feelings of being different prepare him to preemptively turn on humans and attempt to control them. Otherwise, he’ll only feel more ostracized throughout his life.
Brandon does, in fact, have agency through all of this; he embraces his nature as a weapon because it’s easier than working towards empathy. It’s a nihilistic point of view that’s unfortunately prevalent a lot in real life, and indicates that the scariest thing about this movie is that absolute power is impossible to live with in a realistic society. There have been rumblings that a sequel to Brightburn could come together, which at least offers the opportunity to show other individuals who don’t get corrupted by the same power and responsibility.
Next: Everything We Know About Brightburn 2
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