During the 2000s, horror followers had been besieged by remakes that had been neither needed nor preferred, together with (however not restricted to) 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 2005’s The Fog and The Amityville Horror, 2006’s Black Christmas, The Hills Have Eyes, The Wicker Man, The Omen and When a Stranger Calls, 2008’s Prom Night, 2009’s Friday the 13th and The Stepfather, and 2010’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. It was a dreary period of substandard do-overs that put a shiny fashionable sheen on works that had by no means demanded such remedy, and save for the uncommon exception (notably, Rob Zombie’s two Halloween movies), they had been tossed-off cash-grabs that exploited acquainted and simply marketable properties to a new technology of style audiences longing for one thing sinister and sick to take pleasure in with their associates on a Friday night time.
When that development died, one other cropped up, led by Stranger Things and likeminded initiatives that strip-mined beloved Nineteen Seventies and ’80s gems for nostalgic homages. It’s up for debate whether or not these remix ventures had been any extra authentic than the remakes which preceded them, nevertheless it’s in that context that we now get Firestarter, a new Blumhouse-produced tackle Stephen King’s 1980 novel about a younger lady with the power to set issues on fireplace together with her thoughts. It was all the time one of many creator’s lesser early efforts, nevertheless it wedged itself into the general public consciousness primarily by way of Mark L. Lester’s 1984 cinematic adaptation, which starred a younger Drew Barrymore—contemporary off her breakthrough half in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial—as Charlie, a pyrokinetic child struggling to come to phrases together with her unruly behavior of igniting conflagrations. Not that it deserved to be remembered; regardless of a powerful solid rounded out by George C. Scott, Martin Sheen, Louise Fletcher, Art Carney, David Keith and Heather Locklear, it was a awful film that lacked horror, suspense, character or an intriguing thought in its infernal head.
All of which brings us to Keith Thomas’ 2022 iteration of King’s story, a misbegotten endeavor that straddles the road between the crummy rehashes of 20 years in the past and the newer tributes of the final decade. Premiering concurrently in theaters and on Peacock immediately (May 13), Firestarter feels, from the beginning, virtually fully DOA—a considerably surprising flip of occasions on condition that director Keith Thomas’ prior The Vigil was a restrained and environment friendly slice of non secular horror. Thomas’ knack for menacingly low-lit motion is as soon as once more evident in his latest. Yet the only temper conjured by this dud is one in every of excessive torpor, and the only response it elicits is confusion as to why anybody—together with headliner Zac Efron—thought this was worthy of their time or power within the first place.
In a generic home in a featureless city in an unidentified location, Andy (Efron) and Vicky (Sydney Lemmon) reside with their daughter Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), who’s something however regular, as evidenced by a gap dream sequence during which an toddler Charlie units fireplace to her crib—after which her personal head! Andy wakes from this reverie shaken, and subsequently finds his daughter taking part in with a zippo lighter in the dead of night of their kitchen. She talks about how “one thing feels bizarre in my physique,” which means her capability for taking pictures flames out of her torso (aka “the unhealthy factor”). Andy reminds her that when that uncontrollable sensation washes over her, she ought to calm herself by specializing in on a regular basis objects in her line of her sight. Once Vicky seems, he presents to make all of them pancakes, though as a result of Efron can’t promote himself as a dad (even with a perfunctory beard), this gesture of loving fatherhood comes off as laughably inauthentic.
A credit score sequence of grainy VHS footage elucidates that, as faculty college students, Andy and Vicky had been a part of a scientific trial involving a hallucinogenic chemical compound that granted them telepathic and telekinetic powers, each of which they’ve subsequently handed on to their firestarter daughter. This LSD-is-bad situation was a byproduct of the ebook’s particular 1980 time, and thus resonates as wholly misplaced in a 2022 story. Nonetheless, Thomas and firm dutifully keep it up, casting it as the rationale this clan is in hiding from The Shop, the clandestine group accountable for their situation and keen to reacquire them for additional lab-rat research.
Charlie learns about this state of affairs when she explodes in scorching trend at college (spurred by bullies) and at residence (injuring her mother), thereby attracting the eye of The Shop’s Captain Hollister (Gloria Reuben), who seeks counsel from her predecessor Dr. Joseph Wanless (Kurtwood Smith) and enlists one other enhanced check topic—Michael Greyeyes’ John Rainbird—to hunt Charlie. Before lengthy, Andy and Charlie are fleeing seize from the powers-that-be, whose shadowy nefariousness can be a holdover from the Nineteen Seventies. Alas, their total ordeal is a go-nowhere, event-free slog that’s comprised of only pit stops at an alley behind a constructing (the place Charlie hilariously fries a cat to a crisp) and on the residence of an aged man (John Beasley) whom Andy mind-controls into helping their flight.
“This LSD-is-bad situation was a byproduct of the ebook’s particular 1980 time, and thus resonates as wholly misplaced in a 2022 story.”
To say that nothing occurs in Firestarter is an understatement; hardly ever has a film taken fewer narrative steps than this one, all whereas concurrently indulging in nothing however expository dialogue. Scott Teems’ script is so leaden and inert that Thomas and his solid are helpless to inject any momentum or vitality into the proceedings. The few stabs at jolt-scares are pitifully ineffective; the demise scenes are cold and unimaginative; and the hearth results are chintzy and underwhelming. Pictures fly off the partitions, Efron bleeds from the eyes (a consequence of using his “push” powers) and Charlie ultimately hones and controls her reward, however Teems’ screenplay is a sluggish affair that eschews the on-the-run propulsion of King’s novel, which was its primary (sole?) asset.
Worse, Firestarter boasts a familiar-sounding synth rating from horror legend John Carpenter that, when married to late pictures of Charlie using around suburbia on a bike in a hooded sweatshirt, ideas issues into regurgitation-of-a-regurgitation territory, as if the film had been now intentionally echoing Stranger Things’ knock-off tackle Firestarter and its supernatural/sci-fi Nineteen Eighties ilk. A closing shot that ends with Carpenter’s sub-Halloween theme taking part in over red-font closing credit openly strives to stroke that nostalgic candy spot, however by that time on this purposeless retread, the only factor one feels is reduction that it’s over.