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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Brightburn, Review: Stay non-aliened

Brightburn, Review: Stay non-aliened

Comic-book creators took Moses as inspiration and wrote out a character called Superman, who arrives on earth as a baby, in a spaceship, from a planet called Krypton, is adopted by a childless couple, shows super powers and grows up to save the world from crisis after crisis. Soon, Superboy, who grew up to be Superman, became an on screen superhero, and a cult figure from the DC comics stable. He even joined hands with other superheroes on occasion and battled super villains, both earthly and alien, either alone or in tandem with his fellow super heroes. First appearing in 1938, Superman is in action 81 years thereafter. So is a 12 year-old slasher called Brightburn.

Few would not have heard about how Moses arrived at a queen’s palace afloat a basket and was secretly adopted by the issueless Roman royalty. He grew into a great warrior, a prophet and saviour, revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims. It was he who brought the Ten Commandments from God, carved by God’s own lightning, on stone. Now, imagine a just-born alien who lands in an other-worldly kind of tiny spaceship (basket) in Brightburn, Kansas, one eventful day, in 2006, when the skies have a rare configuration, and is spotted by Tori and Kyle Breyer(Elizabeth Banks and David Denman), a farming couple. The Breyers are dying to have a baby, but are unable to do so, even after medical intervention. They take it as a God-sent gift, and adopt him. Though his features are very much alien at birth, he becomes human very fast, and lo, he is baby Brandon Breyer. Superboy?  No Sireee! Anything but.

Ten years later, Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn), when he is alone on the farm, discovers that he has superhuman strength, after strange voices in his head tell him to plunge his hand into an active lawn-mower fan-blade. That same night, Brandon sleep-walks to the farm, trying to open a trap-door in the barn, which contains the ‘spaceship’ he arrived in. Tori hears noises and follows him there. When she wakes him, Brandon appears delirious. Tori does not tell Kyle about this, as a protective mother. Soon, Brandon grows more disobedient and disrespectful towards Tori and Kyle. To his father's surprise, Brandon chews and bends a fork with his teeth, again appearing delirious. Kyle begins to suspect that something is wrong with Brandon.

Tori finds disturbing drawings, pornographic in nature, under Brandon’s mattress, and tells Kyle, leading him to talk with Brandon about puberty and girls. That night, Brandon goes to the house of his classmate Caitlyn (Emmie Hunter), staring at her through a window until she notices him. The next night, Kyle discovers that their chickens have been slaughtered. Tori suggests that it was a wolf attack, but Kyle insists that Brandon is responsible, for he had earlier seen Brandon staring at them intently. The next morning, at school, students do a trust fall exercise, but Caitlyn does not catch Brandon, calling him a pervert, for spying on her. Brandon breaks Caitlyn's hand when she tries to pick him up under the orders of the Physical Education teacher (Terence Rosemore). The principal (Elizabeth Becka) suspends Brandon for two days, reporting to his aunt Merilee (Meredith Hagner), the school counsellor, for counselling afterwards. Later, Tori finds her son levitating above the open trapdoor containing the hidden spaceship, continuously repeating the phrase "take the world" in an alien language (sub titled).

Mark Gunn and Brian Gunn are the brother and cousin respectively of the film’s producer, James Gunn. Mark said in an interview with Slashfilm, “Brian and I are both parents ourselves. Having a child is like inviting a stranger into your home. You hope that they will turn out to be well adjusted or even amazing people, but when they’re young, you just can’t know.” Said Brian, “We actually wrote a sequence where Brandon got revenge on a couple of bullies in his class, who were giving him a hard time. We cut it out, because Brian suggested that in that case you would be rooting for Brandon, since these kids were bullying him. We did not want to put the audience in a position of really rooting for Brandon to hurt people. So we cut it out before we even went to production.”

Expanded in effects and budget from a really low cost production to a medium budget venture, the film, directed by David Yarovesky (co wrote and directed The Hive, directed The Belko Experiments), suffers from several lapses. Firstly, how did the couple register the adoption? Secondly, why did the alien acquire human form? Thirdly, what happened between ages 0-10? Why did the alien noises in his head only awaken the super powers in him after age 10?

Next, how did he explain the mower motor fan incident to Kyle? Why is he unable to keep the capers of his hooded and caped alter ego a secret? Why did he need to keep going back to the spaceship? Why did he wait until eternity to kill his later victims? With so many super powers, did he have to launch a hunt and bring his house down to catch and kill somebody in his own home? What does “take the world” mean to him? Go around slashing anybody and everybody who discovers he is an alien, and then destroying cities? By using varied methods of killing, was the boy trying to be creative, or was it the authors’ way of avoiding déjà vu? Why did the couple keep the spacecraft safely hidden, instead of trying to destroy it, or, at the very least, bury it on their own farm?

What’s the point of the whole film? Humans are good and bad. Aliens are good and bad. Super-powered beings are good and bad. Not just bad, but sadistic. Didn’t we know that?  In a 91-minute film, there are at least 9.1 jump scares, which is a bad ratio. Real horror sinks in after about half the film. Though there are so many children in the film, and some of them well-delineated characters, the film is strictly adult viewing.

Elizabeth Banks as Tori Breyer is convincing as the mother who will protect her son at almost all cost. But there is a Mother India like scene in the climax, only here it gets turned upside down. David Denman as Kyle Breyer shows a wide range of emotions, sometimes controlled, sometimes a bit over the top. Jackson A. Dunn as Brandon Breyer/Brightburn puts on such a poker-face that his parents should have thought of counselling him years before they decide to do so. As Brightburn, this suits the blank expression an alien might have. How do you know what alien expressions are, in any case? Matt Jones as Noah McNichol, Tori’s brother-in-law and Meredith Hagner as Merilee McNichol, her sister, do fine jobs. Emmie Hunter makes a vulnerable, fragile yet sharp Caitlyn. As her mother, waitress Erica, Becky Wahlstrom is rotund and gritty, but cannot battle the devil. One scene, where she removes a glass splinter from her eye, will have you cringing and rooting for her. Rooting for anybody, however, is going to get you nowhere, for there are no survivors in this Darkburn saga, not even law enforcers Gregory Alan Williams (Chief Deputy Deever) and Anne Humphrey (Deputy Aryes).

Also in the cast are Stephen Blackehart as Travis, Jennifer Holland as Ms. Espenschied,  Abraham Clinkscales as Royce, Christian Finlayson as Fauxhawk and Michael Rooker as The Big T.

Some quotes from the dialogue:

*Brandon Breyer: Mom, who am I? (Alien with an existential crisis early in life, aged 11).

*Tori Breyer: [to Brandon] Whatever you've done, I know there is good inside you! (Even terrorists have mothers).

*Tori Breyer: You are a ‘gift’. I know it's been difficult for you lately, that you feel different from other kids. You ‘are’ different. After your dad and I got married, we prayed for a baby for so long. One night, someone listened. (Time to spill the beans on the birds and the bees?).

*Kyle Breyer: Maybe there is something wrong with Brandon. He may look like us. He's not like us! (Skin colour doesn’t count; grey matter does).

*Tori Breyer: I will never turn against our son. (What would we do without mothers? Anyway, at one point she does turn against him).

*Kyle Breyer: ‘He's’ not our son! (Stating the million dollar obvious fact of their lives).

Think of the film as an anti-Christ who has come to destroy the believers.

A devil, who, realising that he cannot win by peaceful methods, unleashes mass murder as his ultimate weapon.

A would be Moses, who, got replaced by a mid-stream and will grow up to be the most tyrannical Pharaoh.

A namrepuS who was sent to earth from planet notpyrK to wait for a signal, and then “take the world”.

Moral of the story: Stay away from alien babies.

Moral of the review: Stay away from Brightburn (the film, not the town).

Rating: * 1/2


James Gunn and the misfires

James Gunn is using his clout in Hollywood to get more original horror movies made. He produced The Belko Experiments from his own screenplay, based on the video-games.

There were plans to promote the film at the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con, but it was pulled at the last minute in the wake of James Gunn's removal from Walt Disney Studios and Marvel Studios, only for Disney and Marvel to reconcile with Gunn nine months later.

Disney fired Gunn from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 after a series of offensive tweets Gunn made, in many cases, from 2009 and 2010. In the tweets, Gunn makes a number of jokes about pædophilia and molestation.

James Gunn was credited with making low-budget, exploitation cinema, writing schlocky movies like Tromeo and Juliet, before eventually climbing his way into the Hollywood studio system, where he wrote films like Scooby-Doo, before finally breaking into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the first Guardians of the Galaxy. Offensive, shocking humor was one of the filmmaker’s trademarks early in his career, something he acknowledged in an apology posted to Twitter on July 19th, 2018.

Then, on July 21, came, "I understand and accept the business decisions taken today...I take full responsibility for the way I conducted myself then. All I can do now, beyond offering my sincere and heartfelt regret, is to be the best human being I can be."

Disney has rehired James Gunn to direct Guardians of the Galaxy 3, in mid-March, 2019,

Gunn’s departure was met with criticism by reporters, Hollywood insiders, and even those working within Marvel. Gunn’s firing even led to the cast of the first two Guardians of the Galaxy films to sign a letter asking Marvel and Disney to reconsider the firing.

Guardians of the Galaxy 3 is in development, but was pushed back from its original 2020 release date.

James Gunn-produced superhero horror Brightburn didn’t encounter resistance over its comparisons to DC Comics’ Superman, Gunn tells CinePop. He explained, “Well no, because there’s a lot of similar stories that have been told in comic books over the years, from all sorts of different comic book publishers,” Gunn said when asked if he was worried the project would face complications from Warner Bros.-owned DC Comics. “And I have a pretty good relationship with DC.”

The Guardians of the Galaxy filmmaker enters the DC universe with The Suicide Squad, set in the DC Extended Universe but sharing little connection with David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, David Dastmalchian, and Viola Davis will star.

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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