M.L. Miller here! Welcome horror fans to my Annual countdown of the Best of the Best in Horror! Running every day through October, this list will culminate with the best horror film of the year announced on October 31st. Some of these films can be found in theaters—others have unfortunately only seen the light of day On Demand, DVD, BluRay, or digital download. I’ve tried to indicate in the reviews how you can watch and enjoy these films yourselves. I’ll also provide a “Worth Noting” secondary film suggestion in a separate post. These are films that stood out or just missed being on the list by a skosh—a little extra for those who can’t get enough horror.
How did I compile this list? I simply looked through films released between October 1st 2018 and September 30, 2019 and worked and reworked the list until I had the magic number, 31. This countdown is not for the elitists or festival goers, so if the film hasn’t been released to the masses, it won’t be on the list. Also anything released this October will most likely be on next year’s list—so sorry, no films like DOCTOR SLEEP or ZOMBIELAND 2 just yet.
I hope you’ll join me daily and don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!
My main complaint is with the ad campaign of BRIGHTBURN which revealed everything about the film in trailers and not the film itself. Still this fact soured the entire experience with the film for me. Maybe without having the film spoiled for me in the trailers, things would have been different and BRIGHTBURN would have made it higher on my list. As is, this film, which is far from perfect, comes in as #26. Released on May 24, 2019, here’s my review of BRIGHTBURN! Available On Demand, digital download, and BluRay/DVD!
Directed by David Yarovesky
Written by Brian Gunn, Mark Gunn
Starring Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Matt Jones, Meredith Hagner, Emmie Hunter, Abraham Clinkscales, Jennifer Holland, Becky Wahlstrom, Gregory Alan Williams, Annie Humphrey, Elizabeth Becka, Steve Agee, Stephen Blackehart, Michael Rooker
I’m angry with BRIGHTBURN and it has nothing to do with the acting, the direction, the effects, the story, the ideas, the tone, or the entire movie itself. It’s not BRIGHTBURN’s fault that I’m angry. The reason why I’m angry is that practically all of the shocks, scares, surprises, and twists in BRIGHTBURN were spoiled in the three promotional trailers that played prominently to advertise the movie. And that’s a damn shame, because this is a great movie.
Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn) is a seemingly normal kid growing up on a farm in Brightburn, Kansas with his loving parents Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denham). Unbeknownst to Brandon, he was found by his parents in the wreckage of a spaceship that landed in their farm. When Brandon begins puberty, though, aside from the normal changes a kid goes through, he also finds that he is developing superpowers. While this story may sound similar to a squeaky-clean superhero with a cape and spit curl, Brandon Breyer is definitely no Clark Kent, as the small town will soon understand when Brandon’s powers emerge complete and with them comes murderous and horrifying carnage.
Piggybacking on the familiarization most genre audiences has with the Superman origin (given that it has been told and retold in comics, film, and TV), BRIGHTBURN upends those expectations by replacing the well-intentioned kid from that film with Damian from THE OMEN. Jackson A. Dunn is a weird looking kid and acts equally awkward. Dunn displays a fantastic sadistic side which suggests an ominous nature even before anything treacherous happens. Banks gives a great performance as his mother, devoted in protecting him and knowing that there is a good child under all of those scary powers. And David Denman is equally great as the hapless father, trying to be the best dad he can. Overall, the performances are what sell this incredible story that the audience is familiar with yet continues to surprise all the way through (or would have, if everything hadn’t been revealed in trailers).
This is a classic tale of nature versus nurture and a rather sophisticated one at that. While Clark Kent’s story proves that despite his alien nature, the nurturing parents who found him is what gave him the humanity necessary to be the hero her grows up to become. Without them, Clark’s and Brandon’s story might have been similar. The Breyer parents are no less wholesome and hopeful than the Kents. They share strong moral values, a love and strength of familial bonds, and are genuinely good people. But all of that doesn’t seem to be a match for Brandon’s alien nature, which urges him to kill and overthrow the world. The result is a nightmare as Brandon’s humanity seems to wane the older he gets—a much more stark look at the nature of humanity. It’s not his parents that make Brandon who he is, it’s simply the lizard brain guiding his actions to become who he is meant to be. Banks’ character of Tori is excellent as the flipside to this argument. Even when faced with proof that Brandon is off, she gives in to her maternal instincts and it isn’t until the very end that she knows there is no turning back.
I think where BRIGHTBURN wanes is that everything seems to happen all at once. I wish there would have been some instances involving Brandon as a child that showed a more violent and destructive nature. Maybe a tendency to break toys, hurt animals, start fires, or have nightmares would have made the transition from normal boy to alien menace a little more convincing. There had to be some signs between the time the Breyer’s found Brandon and his 12th birthday that hinted at Brandon’s true nature. I understand that the parents were blinded and in denial that there was any indication of anything wrong, but still, some occurrences that went either unnoticed or ignored during that time would have made the entire story stronger.
Though practically everything is revealed in this film in terms of plot, themes, and even twists and shocking scenes. The gore, which the commercials can’t show, is quite proficient. The filmmakers don’t hold back in showing how gnarly Brandon’s wrath truly is and it results in some absolutely grueling effects. Not only are there some particularly wicked practical effects, but there is a lot of thought behind the psychological nature of this type of horror, specifically in terms of Brandon’s growing fascination with anatomy and gory photos. This attention to detail adds an element of unease and true terror to the film.
With Gunn doing GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and SUICIDE SQUAD, it seems he is building yet a third superhero universe in the darkness of BRIGHTBURN. There is even a bit at the end that suggests more beings like Brandon that look and act surprisingly like the JLA popping up in Brandon’s world. Look for an Easter Egg tying the film in with another Gunn-take on superhero-ing towards the end too. If this is the warning shot along the bow for a new heroic universe, I say bring it on.
It looks as if MA, the most recent horror release, follows the same advertising path that BRIGHTBURN mistakenly takes, as it even shows the titular baddie sitting on a couch among the victims; revealing who lives and dies before we even get to know them in the film. Take recent failures like GRETA and THE INTRUDER and compare their trailers (which basically tell the entire story in two to three minutes) with films like the upcoming MIDSOMMAR and US, which showed shocking and provocative imagery while keeping the plot ambiguous. I know which film I would have rather seen. And by the way, which films did better at the box office, given that people’s interests were piqued rather than having their expectations dashed due to spoilers in the trailers? My message to Hollywood is to have more faith in your horror. You don’t need to show everything to the viewer to get them into the theater. People love the genre and if it’s in theaters, I’m sure there will be butts in the seats. Leave some of the surprises to be experienced in the theater and not ruined because you feel the need to prepare the sensitive audience for what they are about to experience. BRIGHTBURN already has the Superman mythos as a framework, so audiences don’t need their hand held to prepare them for this story. BRIGHTBURN is the latest victim to bad marketing and it’s such a shame, as it is a film that deserves so much more and most likely would have made bigger waves at the box office had there been a marketing team more creative enough to bring people in without revealing all of the cards in this film’s hand.
THE COUNTDOWN SO FAR…
#26 – BRIGHTBURN
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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