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David Yarovesky’s Brightburn is sort of underrated, and I suppose that’s better than being overhyped. Still, I do recommend checking this movie out. Like Amazon Prime’s The Boys or even the good old-fashioned X-Men, Brightburn is a solid reminder that superpowers would be scary. After all, aren’t people potentially deadly enough as is? Give them any sort of power and some of them will surely abuse it. In that respect, I think nearly any story with such thematic elements wins a point or two. It actually is food for thought, and nourishing food at that.

I hesitate to call Brightburn a genius movie, but it is intelligently done. For example, parents Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman) immediately hide the spaceship their son Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) arrived in. While this is similar to Superman’s origin story, it ends up taking dark turns before very long. The parents seem to know the townspeople wouldn’t be so delighted to see that bizarre ship. Also, the Breyer family attempts to lead the life of a “normal family,” but it’s inevitably a tale of a bizarre family gone awry. Normal discipline cannot work with a child who knows he’s invincible, can it? While I don’t know if this qualifies as cult films, a story of a superpowered maniac has its appeal.

Rating: R. Definitely an R

Many movies can be rated R for mild violence. Hell, even some considerably violent films get a “hard PG pass.” However, there’s no denying that Brightburn is an R-rated and ultimately bizarre funhouse ride. While X-Men’s Logan delighted in dropping F-bombs at every opportunity, Brightburn ends up heavily caked in blood and some disturbing images. Horror fans should not be too disappointed. In fact, this movie has some gross-out moments that’ll make you say, “Offensive language who? Sexual content what?” The violence is effective and definitely part of the story. Think of a young, superpowered Ted Bundy.

‘Brightburn’ Avoids Being Too Nerdy

I’m capable of being nerdy here and there, so I’m not going to judge too much. Still, I appreciate this movie for not layering on endless superhero and sci-fi themes. They are present at times, but it’s not exactly an homage-fest. It is a supervillain movie that stays down to earth. At no point does Brandon re-enter his ship to be pursued by a group of space pirates, or any corny shit like that.

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The baby and ship have a bizarre connection, but it’s more Satanic in nature than anything related to laser-blasters and space mutants. Brightburn is on its way to somewhere else. It’s more “Omen-style than Jedi-style. One could imagine Brandom drafting some Death Star plans, but this is no Skywalker, Obi-Wan, Yoda, Wookie cookie-cutter rip-off clusterfuck.

Brightburn’s Possible Kryptonite

This movie experiments with the effects of power on the human mind. Or does it? There are signs throughout that Brandon may be possessed by soem evil force outside of himself. Honestly, I think this movie loses something because of that. You see his twisted pictures that he draws, but at times one wonders if they’re coming from his own mind or that wretched spaceshit. What caused him to hear the music of evil and dance? What allowed him to open a door, to pass that point of no return? I would like to think it was the nature of his power itself, or the idea that “No one can possibly stop me if I misbehave!”

However, that possible message gets confused with all these weird whisperings of evil scattered throughout. At that point, I’d prefer if he slipped and fell on the floor, triggering an accidental shift in personality after a brain hemorrhage (or something like that). Instead, audience might say, “Oh, Brandon is possessed by the alien space-demon by now. Okay.” See the difference? This also opens the door to the movie becoming cheesier in a sequel. Maybe he sees numerous alien planets, and also a David Hasselhoff-type confronting him about his evil ways.

Maybe the Hasselhoff-like hero can have a similar backstory; While playing around with the alien world, he gains his power and ultimately, an android. In other words, a sequel could very easily lose its horror edge by being too mystical and magical, or even too immersed in superpower dynamics. It’s a bit of a tightrope.

Final Thoughts: Where Brightburn Burns Brightest

This movie successfully blends a Superman-esque origin story with a “Don’t open the cellar door” vibe, while threatening to re-open the stab wound we’ve received by years of unworthy-hero worship. In reality, Superman is dead to some of us, and probably deserves it. The Fortress of Solitude falls into ruin and leaves him depressed, because being too self-virtuous and powerful is an easy pathway to villainy (which, interestingly, is why Batman fought Superman anyway). A real Superman would surely have many former friends and a growing supply of enemies, whether he’s earned them or not. After all, isn’t that why the identity’s secret to begin with?

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These elements are lightly brought out here. In the movie itself, Tori, the loving mom, grants her child all the love and respect she can muster, but it’s not going to be enough, and it almost leads her to covering for his abuses. His dream come true is everyone else’s nightmarte, and the couple is not to live happily ever after. While the idyllic newfound “normal” life seems true at first, reality spills out, leaving everyone distraught and in mortal danger. That’s right with the horror tradition, and this movie’s more original about it than some critics are giving it credit for.

What are your thoughts on Brightburn? Let us know in the comments!

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Book Reviews

The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem

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“Julie crawled onto the table, straddling her intern, both hands around the knife. She torqued it downward, cursing. Brad shrieked harder.” -pg 57, The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw & Richard Kadrey

The Dead Take the A Train is the first book in a duology by authors Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey. It was published in 2023 by Tor Nightfire (like the Scourge Between Stars, which I reviewed here). I was not previously familiar with Kadrey’s work, which most notably includes the Sandman Slim series. However, I was introduced to Khaw through The Salt Grows Heavy (review here), which I absolutely adored in all its twisted, gory glory. Therefore, I was thrilled to pick-up The Dead Take the A Train, which promised similar heart in a modern cosmic horror package.

In The Dead Take the A Train, a magical fixer named Julie must hunt down eldritch monstrosities threatening the lives of those around her. To do this, she has to go up against her shitty ex, a questionable angel, finance executives, and her own sobriety. When an old friend shows up, Julie is terrified to find herself making a retirement plan that doesn’t involve getting murdered by a demon.

The Dead Take the A Train is reminiscent of N.K. Jeminsin’s The City We Became, with both featuring queer characters tackling eldritch horror plots in New York City. In the same way, the novel was reminiscent of a gorier version of Dimension 20’s Unsleeping City actual play series. However, it clearly carves out a space for itself among the droves of cosmic-horror inspired love letters to New York City. For one, it is mostly unconcerned with borough beef, which (not to sound like a curmudgeonly Midwesterner), is so refreshing. The book also has a relatively novel way the world works, which helps it stay memorable.

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Overall, I really liked The Dead Take the A Train. First off, the characters are fun and easy to root for. Julie is a mess in pretty much every aspect, but her bad decisions are understandable and she is charismatic. Her romance with her friend, Sarah, also serves to make Julie more likable. It helps that the villains are so easy to hate too. What’s not to hate about rich Wall Street assholes engaging in human sacrifice? Speaking of which, I liked the juxtaposition of corporate Wall Street and cosmic cultists. The actions taken were evil, but more importantly, they were just business.

The prose was flowery, but not quite as much as in The Salt Grows Heavy. So, if you struggled with Khaw’s other works for that reason this may be a much easier read. Personally, I enjoyed the prose in both. There is quite a bit of gore in The Dead Take the A Train, but I didn’t find it to be overwhelming. I think you could still enjoy the book if you don’t love gore, though maybe not if you have a weak stomach.

One of the largest issues I have with The Dead Take the A Train, is the lack of clarity in power levels of the various characters. Especially since all their forms of magic work in different ways, it is sometimes unclear the level of danger present. This can also sometimes create room for plot holes. For example, Julie has a friend who is tapped into anything and everything happening online. This is an absurdly powerful ability (and is used as such). But there were moments where the main conflict probably could have been avoided or solved using that power. It also felt odd that no one else in this thriving magic community felt strongly about stopping a world-ending catastrophe. Because of this, the magic underground of NYC could feel smaller than I think was intended.

Having been familiar with Khaw’s work previously, The Dead Take the A Train clearly feels like a mix of Khaw’s style with someone else’s. This could be a boon or a hindrance, depending on your view of Khaw’s distinct prose and storytelling. Either way, if you are interested in learning more about the process or the authors, check out the interview they did for SFF Addicts Podcast!

Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey on the SFF Addicts Podcast

I recommend The Dead Take the A Train, especially for those who are fans of modern urban eldritch horror. The book is an even bigger steal if you are looking for danger, gore, and queer characters. Check it out! And keep your eyes peeled for the next book in this duology. 

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[USR 4.2]

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Movies n TV

Dolores Roach, A Fillet of Left Cheek

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The second season of Dolores Roach started with a bang. The first episode was dark, gristly and in a strange way whimsical. It certainly brought to light new elements of the character.

The story

We begin our story with Dolores somewhere, talking to someone. I’d like to be more specific, but that’s all we know right now.

She tells this unknown person about her flight from Empanadas Loco. How Jeremiah killed Luis. How she, whether she meant to or not, killed Jeremiah. How she then set the building on fire by blowing up the fryer in the kitchen.

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Scared and alone, Dolores then ran for the underground. Dragging her purple massage table she runs into a hole in a subway track and finds herself in a whole different world.

Almost at once, she finds a place where someone is living. There’s a hot plate, a kettle and several packets of ramen. Even better, everything has Jeremiah’s name on it, literally written on it. Exhausted and alone, Dolores makes herself a cup of ramen and goes to sleep on her massage table.

She’s woken sometime later by a small man named Donald. He knows her because he knew Jeremiah. Dolores proceeds to tell him an abridged version of events that led up to Jeremiah’s death. And by abridged, I mean she blamed Luis for everything, throwing him under the bus so hard I’m surprised she didn’t pull something.

Donald seems inclined to help Dolores. He tells her that if anyone messes with her she should go further down, down a stairwell that he points out for her.

Dolores thanks him, then tries to go back to sleep. She’s soon woken again by a young woman collecting Jeremiah’s things.

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While Dolores has an issue with this, she’s willing to let it go. Until that is, this woman tries to take her table. Then, Dolores does what she does best. Because one thing is for sure. Dolores is going to take care of herself.

What worked

One thing I love about this series so far is that our main character, Dolores, is crazy. And hearing her rationalize her crazy is both terrifying and fascinating. I hate/love how sweet and soothing she can be. Even with the rat that she killed in this episode. She cooed at it, encouraging it to come to her, even calling it a subway raccoon.

Then she killed it and started crying.

I also love the underground community. It’s both horrific and whimsical. It reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which is full of worlds most people don’t see but are all around us. It’s also horrific because there are so many people that our society has failed, that they’ve gathered underground and made their own little society. That’s not great. There just shouldn’t be that many people who need homes.

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What didn’t work

Unfortunately, this episode did have two major flaws. And the first one is a personal pet peeve of mine.

In the last episode of season one, certain things were established. Dolores said she was carefully rationing her weed. She said she didn’t have anything to eat since coming down to the tunnels. She still had her massage table. This episode rewrote a lot of that.

Frankly, I hate when stories do that. It may or not make a difference to the story. It just strikes me as poor planning and lazy writing. This show has proven it’s capable of doing better.

All things considered, I thought this was a great start to the season. I’m invested in the story, curious about the new characters, and worried about the well-being of everyone Dolores comes in contact with. And that’s all as it should be.

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3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

By the way, if you like my writing, you might want to check out my latest sci-fi horror story, Nova. It’ll be released episodically on my site, Paper Beats World, starting February 5th.

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Movies n TV

The Golem (2019), a Film Review

The Golem (2019) is a folk horror film directed by Doron and Yoav Paz, starring Hani Furstenberg and Ishai Golan.

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The Golem (2019) is a folk horror film directed by Doron and Yoav Paz. The cast includes Hani Furstenberg, Ishai Golan, Kirill Cernyakov, and Brynie Furstenberg. As of this review, the film remains available to Amazon Prime and fuboTV subscribers with additional purchase options on other platforms.

Set in 1673, a small Jewish community faces hardships from others as the Black Plague spreads. When these hardships reach a boiling point, Hanna takes matters into her own hands. Having secretly learned to read, she seeks to perform a ritual that would create a protector for her people. Yet, this act brings about a steep cost.

a redheaded woman walks through a village.
Hani Furstenberg as Hanna

What I Like about The Golem

The film received three nominations in 2019. These nominations include Best Actress, Best Sound, and Best Cinematography from the Award of the Israeli Film Academy. While The Golem wouldn’t win these awards, the nominations indicate a strong film.

I won’t claim to know the accuracy and intricacies of the golem in relation to its religious origin, but the film certainly brings to life its concept. The effort to create such a creature and the toll it takes from the summoner create an emotional throughline for viewers to follow.

Hani Furstenberg’s Hanna and Ishai Golan’s Benjamin bring a complicated but realistic relationship to the film. Viewers see the love between them, even as their own society attempts to cast them from each other. They feel like a couple who understand the other’s wants and needs. However, we begin to witness the decaying of this relationship.

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Hanna, specifically, provides a complex character that incentivizes the viewers to root for and against her at different points in the movie. Though she navigates blatant sexism and discrimination, she remains far from flawless. These flaws and ambitions establish Hanna as an interesting character.

The Golem can be brutal. This film provides a period-accurate look into antisemitism and systemic oppression, which certainly evokes a different form of horror. However, the golem itself brings brutality through its smiting.

White background, rubber stamp with disclaimer pressed against the white background.
Disclaimer Kimberley Web Design

Tired Tropes and Triggers

As the film deals directly with systemic issues of 1673, understand that antisemitism, sexism, and hate crimes remain important elements within the film.

An assault leads to a miscarriage, which seems a point worth mentioning for potential viewers who are sensitive to such points. Fertility and bodily autonomy, generally, also play roles within the provided film.

If any of these are potential issues for your viewing experience, perhaps skip The Golem.

An obscured woman looks at a boy covered in mud. The setting is a forest.
The Golem takes Shape

What I Dislike about The Golem

Aleksey Tritenko delivers a wonderful performance for an interesting antagonist, but the role of Vladimir serves limited purposes. In many ways, he’s the representation of his societal antisemitism. While this remains perfectly valid, he somewhat disappears from the narrative until he becomes relevant. His marauders should be an oppressive threat within the society, looming over it with malice.

I can’t deny the lack of intimidation the golem’s aesthetic brings. While some films evoke an eeriness through silent children to horrific effect, this didn’t sit well with me. It should be eerie, but something was missing in execution.

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The Golem focuses on a more human horror than the supernatural elements might suggest. While not a direct critique, prepare your viewing expectations accordingly. The Golem remains a folk horror film, using the folk story to represent human evil and flaws. It won’t particularly haunt you with the gore.

Final Thoughts

The Golem brings the old legend of the golem folk story to life. If you thirst for a human horror that shines a light on the flaws of the people within, The Golem might satisfy you. However, it’s not a particularly frightening film, choosing instead to tell a story of loss and overcoming suffering. 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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