The new movie “Brightburn,” set in an imaginary rural Kansas, is something we’ve rarely seen before — a small scale monster movie. If we’d not already seen the 2016 Anne Hathaway movie “Colossal,” it might take us awhile to get used to the idea.
Monster movies have scale both because they are about big characters —Godzilla, obviously, but even the Mummy is the size of Boris Karloff — and because they are about big ideas. The hulking threats often represent real-life dangers — the atomic bomb, for instance, or our ignorance of the past.
“Brightburn” is small scale, but only (one senses) because it was less expensive to do with farm settings and just a few characters. It has the scale of a horror movie. It features fewer settings and characters than, for example, “Carrie,” a similar but much greater movie.
One difference between “Carrie” and “Brightburn” is that in the older movie, the victims drive an innocent character to retaliate against them. In the new film, the monster is the monster from right off. He just needs some fine tuning.
You see, Brandon (Jackson Dunn) was an infant when he fell to Earth. In some ways the story is like the one of Superman appearing as a baby to Kansas farmers who took him in and raised him. Brandon happens to land in an odd, flat pasture where no cattle are grazing.
He comes in a nose cone that looks like the housing of an old nose propeller. It is preserved by the Breyers, Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman, who looks like Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys). The couple hide the space artifact behind a padlocked trap door in a “barn.”
None of the farm stuff seems right, by the way. Only one character in the movie wears a ball cap, for example. The Breyers, who seem to own a big place, keep a few chickens and no other livestock. Nor do they seem to have crops planted. And they are concerned about wolves. In Kansas?
But they were unable to have children of their own, and they are fond of the intelligent but slightly chilly Brandon. When he turns 12, the trouble starts.
Brandon gets nighttime messages from the nose cone. He is told he must take control of our planet. He discovers he is very strong and is nearly invulnerable. He can chuck a running lawn mower 40 yards and then stop its blade with his hand.
His classmates think he’s odd. After a talk about masturbation that is mismanaged by his dad, Brandon decides to approach a neighbor girl. He creeps her out, and she lets him fall during a trust exercise at school. So when she goes to help him up, he crushes her hand.
The girl’s mother, a diner manager, complains loudly to the principal. So very late that night Brandon visits the diner. And when she turns her back on the boy, he creeps up from behind.” It may be Brandon uses “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” on her. At any rate she disappears after we see her eye injured with glass from a fluorescent tube and the demolition of the door to the walk-in freezer in which she tries to hide.
Now Brandon is in oddly motivated cover-up mode. His professional aunt’s attitude seems to threaten the boy. So off he goes in his cloak (like Superboy), with his X-ray eyes and his ability to hover off the ground and to throw gestures that lift and drop his uncle’s truck. There’s broken glass involved in this attack, too.
There isn’t much room to escalate here. The scale is too small. But Brandon does act up more and more. And we see a recreation of the night he landed.
There’s a bad continuity mistake at the climax, with Tori’s face looking as if she’s been beaten despite our having seen no beating. Otherwise the film, which I suppose one has to understand as a metaphor for the effects of puberty, has been competently made.
Its director is David Yarovesky, who made “Guardians of the Galaxy.” “Brightburn” probably needs some of the sense of humor that made that super hero movie a success.
But, then, here Yarovesky was making a small scale monster movie. There weren’t many earlier experiments in the form for him to have studied.