Quick Hit: Though the plot sounds made for me, this film truly wasn’t.
I may have said on this website a time or two that Superman is kinda my guy. I’m huge on the Boy in Blue, despite the fact that so many people find his unnerving goodness boring. For all those that are all about the fact that there is no way a super powered being would turn out like Clark Kent and Superman – Brightburn may be for you. Produced by none other than St. Louis’s own James Gunn, Superman posits the nature vs. nurture debate, and nature wins. Hard.
Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman) are desperately in love, but they want a kid for their marriage. Fertility books on the shelf explain the trouble, and then a space ship lands outside, with a baby inside. In classic Ma and Pa Kent mode, they take the baby into their home, name him Brandon Breyer (to keep the alliteration necessary) and boom – he’s twelve, and experiencing the intense world we call puberty. But his is manifesting itself in voices from the spaceship telling him in an alien language that he should Take the World…. Isn’t that everyone’s power fantasy as a teenager? No?
From here, Brightburn essentially becomes a slasher/creepy kid movie. Jackson A. Dunn, who plays Brandon, pivots instantly in scenes from childhood innocence to a devastating glee at the destruction he has caused people’s bodies. And destruction is putting it mildly. There are bodies that are completely pulverized, pieces ripped off, others that are nothing but body parts hanging as the recipients of Brandon’s tantrums look on in horror, unaware that they are dying while Brandon finger paints in their blood. AND THAT LEGIT HAPPENS IN THIS FILM.
What’s unfortunate about this is that despite all the gore that is splashed across the screen, everything else is… well, pretty boring honestly. We know the story, and we know the characters. Kyle is going to be wary of his child, and Tori is going to love and accept and hold him no matter what happens. While we get some delicate pushes that lead us to think that maybe this film is going full bore with the adolescent metaphors that most comic book iterations flirt with – including some really disturbing behavior by Brandon with his teen crush – the film pulls its punches when it probably needs more. Wasting Banks away to just parrot things that Martha Kent would say to Clark is a bit disappointing honestly. And while there are moments of humor in the film – Kyle attempting to have “the talk” with Brandon while in the woods hunting is one of them – they are fleeting and not nearly as consistent as you should have to give you a break from the relentless violence.
So if you want a good idea of what Superman is capable of if he went bad… why not check out several episodes of Smallville that explore this – like the ones where Tom Welling’s Clark is on Red Kryptonite? Or read some classic stories about the Boy in Blue where he was raised in Russia? Or even just go play through the Injustice video game series? They are better than this.
I’m giving this one a “D”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Solid development of story and red herrings, with very little development of characters.
I was thinking as I was watching this movie about creature features in general. Part of it may be because I included several of them on the list for Halloween horror movies this month, part of it be the current Twitter handle for the website. But most of all, I think it’s because I just legitimately enjoy animals, and therefore enjoy the horror of seeing them devour people as well. There’s a sad lack of bear horror out there, particularly that isn’t parody based, but Backcountry, Adam MacDonald’s debut feature, strives to fill that void.
The plot is just about as simple as you could expect, and there is a lot of commendation that is deserved for MacDonald, who also wrote the film, for getting everything together so simply. Alex (Jeff Roop) and Jenn (Missy Peregrym) are getting ready to go on a hike in the woods. They’re very different, but maybe that’s why they work. After numerous placements of items – the lack of a map, the placement of a cell phone – they set out for a lake from Alex’s memory alone. After a strange encounter with another hiker, they find themselves lost. As the tension grows in the moment they finally realize they have no idea where to go, they start to hear something that may be tracking them.
From here, the movie goes into a bit of a survivor thriller mode, which is a bit disappointing. The bear (a real bear was reportedly used), shows up late in the film, and though he has a terrific bit of on screen time, you can’t help but think so much of this is set up just for the effects team to have fun. While most of the action from the bear is under a shaky cam, the carnage is laid out for the eyes to see. It’s devastating and much worse than anything you’d see in The Revenant. Maybe Alex should have just played dead, but I have a feeling it wouldn’t have worked in this story.
What’s most disappointing throughout the story is just how little you learn about Alex and Missy. They interact with each other throughout the story in a number of escalating arguments, and there feels like there is very little in the way of characterization. Missy is a bit high strung, and I guess is a lawyer or something like it, whereas Alex is not. I wish there was more to it than that – and there are the bones of something more there, in the way Alex is obviously emasculated several times throughout the film – but there just isn’t enough to hang your hat on.
Nevertheless, Backcountry provides enough in its sparse run time that you will probably enjoy it. And, as I stated, how much other bear horror is there out there? Check it out if you’ve got time in your final week of October! I’m giving it a “C”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Haunting and chilling, with an uninviting core of wrongness.
What if your ex invited you to a dinner party with your old crowd of friends and the person she left you for? Would you attend the party or would you continue to go about your life and politely ignore the advance? That is the beginning notion that lies under Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation, but there is so much more that lies beckoning beneath the surface. The gist is just that – Will (Logan Marshall-Green of Upgrade) is invited with his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) to have a dinner with his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband, David (Michiel Huisman). But what happens is telegraphed from the opening moments of the movie, when Will must kill a coyote struck by his car – sometimes, there is death and terror in the smallest of moments.
The Invitation starts off with this dramatic moment, and continues onward into the dinner, but none of the unease ever disapates. In fact, with each passing minute of the film, and with each continued reveal from Eden and Will’s troubled past, you find yourself settling against a profound wall of unease that seems to be growing taller by the second. This incredible piece of dramatic storytelling finds a way to build higher thanks to very strong performances by the cast, particularly the long haired Marshall-Green and the blissfully wispy Blanchard. But I think a few things really stand out when it comes to the tension of the story.
First, the screenplay is incredibly well-written. It comes off like a crime thriller in that clues are slowly given to the audience to piece together and attempt to figure out. There is a locking of a door here, the hidden exit of a friend there, the addition of a cultish video for “The Invitation”, a self-help group that Eden and David have joined to help them deal with their grief. It’s excellent in the way it parses out these tidbits exactly at the moments you need them, and the rest of the film is filled with moments that make you extremely uncomfortable – be it through social interactions or the inevitable finale that forms towards the end of the film.
Next, the sound work in this film is nearly as good as any dramatic thriller I’ve seen. Similar to the physical representations of the clues, there is just as much of a clue in the sound that occur throughout the movie. Whether it’s the brisk pop of a slap to the face, or the dramatic intake of breath from someone uncomfortable with the course of a “game”, the sounds are there to take you on a ride. All of this is buoyed triumphantly by Theodore Shapiro. His haunting, understated score builds a feeling of unease inside you, even when there is simply a group of friends talking and drinking some wine. It’s a very impressive bit of work.
The film builds to a conclusion that is a bit more manic than I would have liked, and ends with a lingering shot that is not out of place, but feels a bit cheap after the delicious dish of movie that had preceded it. I really enjoyed this sick show of a movie, and it made me terribly uncomfortable. I’m giving it an “A-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"