Firestarter Synopsis: A couple desperately tries to hide their daughter, Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), from a shadowy federal agency that wants to harness her unprecedented gift for turning fire into a weapon of mass destruction. Her father taught her how to defuse her power, but as Charlie turns 11, the fire becomes harder and harder to control. When a mysterious operative finally finds the family, he tries to seize Charlie once and for all — but she has other plans. Based on a Stephen King novel.
A superpowered family tries to protect their daughter’s untapped potential in Firestarter. As a remake of the so-so 1984 original, Firestarter represents another Blumhouse Productions attempt at reigniting the audience’s fervor for a retro retread. Their results, so far, showcase a scattershot mixed bag, with every inspired redux (The Invisible Man and Halloween) matched by an uninspired retread (The Craft: Legacy and Fantasy Island).
I credit director Keith Thomas for shaping his Firestarter as a sincere homage to the hard-edged supernatural horror features of the 80s. Unfortunately, Thomas’ good intentions conjure a lukewarm and artistically underwhelming revamp.
While early reviews have savaged the film, I found some promise in what Firestarter achieves. Viewing our central superpowered family in a real-world setting reflects a welcomed change of pace for the genre. Andy and Vicky McGee aspire for Charlie to live a normal life, but her growth into adolescents unleashes the full-scale magnitude of her dangerous powers. At their best, Thomas and Screenwriter Scott Teems reckon with adolescent struggles and familial responsibilities through the clever prism of our characters’ abnormal abilities.
Thomas also displays an earnest embrace of the 80’s old-school aesthetics. Paired with another dynamic synth score from John Carpenter, Firestarter sparks signs of life when Thomas loosens up behind the camera – particularly in the third act. The low-budget assets transform into a strength under his control, with a medley of gnarly practical effects and imaginative kills intensifying the horror atmosphere.
While Thomas displays flourishes of inspired craftsmanship, too much of Firestarter feels stuck in a beige middle ground. Much of the film’s visual profile descends into the dredges of poorly-lit and drab imagery, often not taking advantage of the premise’s high-concept allure. There are bursts where Thomas is deeply-felt behind the camera, but the project mostly reads as a director-for-hire effort that lacks a singular presence.
The visionless end product constrains Firestarter’s narrative ambitions the most. Both Firestarters present a thoughtful nucleus in their focus on adolescence and family ties. However, neither film seems to know what they want to say with the concepts. Teems’ adaptation of King’s source material strips the work of most of its complexion, leaving little more than a husk of what’s there on the page. The characters, while competently performed, serve as nothing more than generic amalgams of other 80s stereotypes. It’s frankly a bummer seeing a promising premise with darker contrasts to our super-hero-dominate climate reduced to mediocrity.
As far as remakes go, Firestarter is a nonstarter. Remakes’ commonplace presence in Hollywood should push creatives to reinvent their source material, not idly try to pay homage to their predecessors.
Firestarter is now playing in theaters and on Peacock.
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