Firestarter contains a good Zac Efron performance and a consistently engaging John Carpenter score, but this modern horror remake lacks tension, thematic pull, and directorial vision.
Stephen King‘s book-to-film adaptations have been around the vast world of cinema ever since the early 1970s. We have seen great pieces of work from legendary directors (Stanley Kubrick, David Cronenberg, Brian De Palma, Tobe Hooper, and Rob Reiner) who have taken the job of adapting one of his many classic books. What’s more intriguing is that, on occasions, these directors don’t follow the source material from front to back in order to create a vaster cinematic experience and bring something new to the table. Carrie, The Shining, The Dead Zone, and Salem’s Lot are perfect examples. However, some adaptations are lacking in every other factor, especially a clear vision, although they have some slightly interesting aspects and concepts. One of them is the 1984 adaptation of Firestarter, starring a young Drew Barrymore. It had a highly captivating idea, yet it ended up being so unassuming and revolved around horror-less repetitions. In modern Hollywood fashion, a modernized remake of the film by The Vigil director Keith Thomas arrives in no time and without anyone asking for it. On a far more negative note, it, unfortunately, contains all the original’s problems and more issues that hurt its already dull presentation.
Firestarter follows Charlie McGee (Ryan Kiera Armstrong): she is the daughter of Andy (Zac Efron) and Vicky-Tomlinson (Sydney Lemmon), from whom she inherited a special gift. However, it isn’t the same as they have: those are physiologically limited, causing migraines and brain hemorrhages. On the other hand, Charlie has a strong pyrokinetic ability that she can’t control. The couple has been trying to hide her daughter from a federal agency that wants to experiment on them and their strange gifts – turning them into weapons.
After Charlie’s 11th birthday, the agency finds the family due to a school accident. Their only choice is now to run for the hills and find a way to escape them once and for all. The problems for Firestarter arrive immediately and are plentiful. The first is its genre focus. You don’t know if it will focus more on the horror side of things, switch onto the sci-fi genre, or go the safe route with its family-drama approach. The final product is a combination of the three, without a specific emphasis on either, making it confusing for the audience to decipher who it was made for.
Although the original wasn’t good, it still contained a couple of fascinating concepts that, with further directorial creativity and vision, could have been explored better. Here, those ideas are gone completely. This modern remake has been stripped down to have a look similar to your generic action “superhero” revenge flick (aka, its most dull persona). On a weekend where there are two films about children exploring strange abilities being released, the one that’s being marketed the most is this one, the monotonously dull one.
Meanwhile, Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents, which is genuinely intriguing, captures the “what could’ve been” for this Stephen King book adaptation. Vogt captures how kids learn about morality and values when they discover they have unique gifts, which cause devastating circumstances as they keep exploring them. While The Innocents has narrative and creative freedom, Firestarter feels the opposite. It’s manufactured and constructed by the studio without much purpose other than just cashing in on another horror movie from the 80s. There aren’t many positives; you can count them with one hand.
There is a good and captivating performance by Zac Efron, which shows the only sight of dread and tension in the entire movie. He does the best he can with the poor script, but Efron comes out on top; you are only engaged when he’s doing the talking. You can’t say the same with the other cast members, unfortunately. It’s great to see Michael Greyeyes, but he isn’t given much to do other than two or three confrontations. Similarly to what happened in Halloween Kills, John Carpenter’s score carries the “dramatic” and “tension-filled” scenes.
Those two and the good burn-injury makeup effects are all the positives one could name. There isn’t anything else worth noting. Firestarter is yet another modern horror-remake disaster. It isn’t worse than the 2020s The Grudge, but it is almost equally boring and unengaging. The only difference is that one has Zac Efron and John Carpenter as a composer, while the other has nothing. If there is something to take out of this, it is that you can see how more fascinating and thematically rich Vogt’s The Innocents is, even with its few minor issues in its conclusion.
Firestarter is now showing globally in theaters and streaming on Peacock.