Synopsis – A young girl tries to understand how she mysteriously gained the power to set things on fire with her mind.
My Take – Though his works continue to be universally celebrated, feature adaptions of best-selling author Stephen King have been mostly miss than hit. Understandable, something which I can attest as an avid fan myself, that considering how deep, lengthy and masterful stories are, they sure can be difficult to translate effectively for a shortened run time.
A feat achieved only rarely, and recently by director Andy Muschietti in the form of It (2017) and It Chapter Two (2019), and filmmaker Mike Flanagan in the form of Gerald’s Game (2017) and Doctor Sleep (2019).
However, I was left quite curious when Blumhouse (Insidious, The Purge, The Invisible Man) announced a remake of Firestarter. Mainly as of all the Stephen King adaptations, director Mark L. Lester’s 1984 film is hardly the most celebrated.
Starring a young Drew Barrymore in which she played a gifted child who could make things spontaneously combust with the power of her mind, the film contained some impressive visual effects (for the time), yet was also marred by a thin narrative, a monotonous screenplay and the offensive casting of George C. Scott as the Cherokee assassin, Rainbird. But even amidst that mediocrity, it was at least watchable, something which its remake forgets to be.
Written by Scott Teems (Halloween Kills, The Quarry) and directed by Keith Thomas (The Vigil), this remake is nothing but a dull knockoff of Stranger Things that intentionally undercuts everything and anything that makes the novel retain any sort of iconic status.
Sure, it is noteworthy that Blumhouse, Teems and director Thomas didn’t just want to make a beat-by-beat remake of the original film, but the end result is nothing less than an oversimplified, aimless, and one-note feature that never justifies its existence, wastes the presence of its star Zac Efron and even fails to understand what made Stephen King‘s 1980 novel so popular. Personally, I found this one to be the worst King adaption yet.
Beginning with some promising credits, stylishly filling in the backstory, the story follows Charlene “Charlie” McGee (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), an 11-year-old troubled girl, who lives a sheltered life with her parents, Andy (Zac Efron) and Vicky (Sydney Lemmon). Mainly because she possesses pyrokinetic abilities, turning things and people into fire when her emotions are at their most extreme.
Her parents have their own abilities too, Andy can psychically push people into doing things, a skill he has been using to cure nicotine addictions for cash, while Vicky can move objects around telekinetically. But they have to hide their secret abilities for fear of discovery from DSI, a CIA-esque mysterious government agency that gave them their powers in a clandestine drug experiment years ago. But when an accident at school caused by Charlie breaks their cover, things quickly start to fall apart.
What follows is a maddeningly tension-free chase narrative as the family tries to evade capture from John Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes), a super powered bounty hunter assigned by the leader of DSI, Captain Jane Hollister (Gloria Reubens) to track down and capture Charlie.
While this latest adaptation moves through most of novels plot it much of the character-driven moments that give that plot weight. The film just meanders around and never gets going even for its minuscule 94 minute run time. Just showing us Charlie wander from town to town trying to keep her emotions in check. Minus any suspense or thrills.
There is no grandeur involved, which is a shame for Charlie’s powers. The film also has a distinct lack of horror, with the camera cutting away from the more frightening moments. Instead, all the elements that make this story scary or an intriguing sci-fi are blandly presented and told. Despite its rating, the film only offers up brief shots of the aftermath of Charlie’s attacks. It also doesn’t help that the film suffers from an unbearably boring and unimaginative climax.
Even the1984 knew it had to deliver big with its ending, but the new film’s climax is devoid of excitement or creativity, it honestly feels like the film is so desperate to just end already. Add this to the fact that you care almost nothing for these character. Very little is done to craft a complete character out of Charlie, whose powers see her emitting fire blasts that incinerate cats and people. Add to that the incredibly unsatisfactory third act with no thrill or suspense whatsoever, the film never rises above being a loser.
Bizarrely, John Carpenter, his son, Cody Carpenter and Daniel A. Davies are credited as composers, who bring in some throwback synth score working at odds with director Thomas’s pedestrian vision. It’s a decent score, and it sure sounds like an old-school Carpenter riff, but it’s not so mind-blowingly amazing that it justifies the existence of the inert remake underneath it.
Performance wise, Zac Efron is perhaps the most attuned to what is expected, but yet it suffers from little to no decisive directing. He does the best he can with the poor script. Ryan Kiera Armstrong comes out on top and brings out a performance that is definitely inspired from Millie Bobby Brown‘s turn in Stranger Things.
Michael Greyeyes casting fixes the mistake from the original, but is severely underutilized. His feelings of awe or obsession with Charlie are out of place and poorly established. In other roles, Sydney Lemmon, Gloria Reubens, John Beasley and Kurtwood Smith are mostly wasted. On the whole, ‘Firestarter’ is a dull and exhausting remake that fails to justify its own existence.
Directed – Angus MacLane
Rated – R
Run Time – 94 minutes