Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

dir David Yarovesky
scr Brian Gunn, Mark Gunn
prd James Gunn, Kenneth Huang
with Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A Dunn, Meredith Hagner, Matt Jones, Gregory Alan Williams, Anne Humphrey, Emmie Hunter, Becky Wahlstrom, Jennifer Holland, Terence Rosemore, Michael Rooker
release US 24.May.19,
UK 19.Jun.19
19/US Sony 1h31

banks jones rooker

denman and dunn
There's a high-concept pitch for this prickly horror movie: What if Superman wasn't such a nice guy? So while the premise skilfully subverts the usual superhero narrative, the filmmakers are also clever enough to build suspense through character connections and an engaging sense of realism, which the actors pick up perfectly. There's not much more to the movie than that, but it's a ripping ride.
On a farm in Brightburn, Kansas, Tori and Kyle (Banks and Denman) have been raising Brandon (Dunn) as their son, after finding him in a crashed meteorite. But on the eve of his 12th birthday, he starts behaving strangely, mainly because he realises that he has seemingly unlimited superpowers. Things escalate when his classmate crush Caitlyn (Hunter) starts to think he's a bit creepy and the school counsellor, his Aunt Merilee (Hagner), begins watching him more closely. But Tori and Kyle can't imagine their sweet son is capable of any nastiness.
Of course, the audience never has any doubt, because Dunn plays the role with a sinister glint in his dead, red eyes. Thankfully, the script takes the time to build the characters and situations, which means that events have an emotional complexity to them. Brandon's dawning realisation of his own power unfolds with ripples of self-doubt, a discovery that's terrifying, intriguing and ultimately chillingly thrilling. Each character is written and played with layers of personality, and director Yarovesky carefully subverts genre cliches while resisting cheap scares.

While Dunn's underplayed menace provides the freaky tone, the much more openly emotive turns from Banks and Denman are what pull the audience in. It's easy to identify with their protective parenting, which is shaded with a wary recognition that pubescent kids aren't always reliable. These mixed emotions are the best elements in the film, and both Banks and Denman are particularly strong in some hilariously awkward moments. Hagner and Jones (as Marilee's husband) also add earthy family textures.

This is a rare horror movie that's actually scary simply because it never feels like it's trying to scare us. Set pieces escalate into hideously grisly nightmares, offering finely produced, stomach-churning gross-outs along the way. And the growing intensity in the story adds a terrific sense of desperation, as we work alongside the characters to figure out how to get this out-of-control kid to stop acting out. It's also a refreshing genre piece that sits nicely alongside producer Gunn's Super (2010) and The Specials (2000).

cert 15 themes, language, violence 5.Jun.19

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