Firestarter Review : Flaming Hell!

This film feels flat and uninspired

(from left) Andy (Zac Efron) and Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) in Firestarter, directed by Keith Thomas.

What is the perfect mix for a great horror film? You must have a compelling story to tell. You need to have the quality filmmaking that brings the tension, suspense, and horror to life. Some great music goes a long way in terms of building those elements as well. When you can find the right mixture of these elements, you will have something special on your hands. Blumhouse has a great (but waning) reputation for great pulpy horror films as they deliver this horror remake and adaptation to theaters and to Peacock. 

But does Firestarter bring Blumhouse back to their legacy of quality or continue their unfortunate streak of mediocre offerings? It is sad to say…the latter is true. Director Keith Thomas takes a stab at this superpowered narrative with plenty of pyrotechnics. There is a certain retro feel to the film including the credits sequences and text, the general tone of the film, and the score (but I will get to that shortly). Thomas’ direction lacks impact. This film never feels like it rises out of first gear. The emotions are not deep enough. The pace of the fill is both choppy and awkward. When the credits begin to roll, there just feels like an air of disappointment and anticlimactic feelings. 

But what does work on the technical aspects of things? John Carpenter’s score. He works with his son as well as another collaborator, but this score has no business being a horror remake so lacking as this one. The score is a banger as it leverages all of Carpenter’s elements (the uses of keyboards and pianos are prolific). Every scene feels a level higher in terms of interest because of the score. I sat through the final credits just so that I could listen to the music. Carpenter missed out on directing the 80’s version but at least he is involved. 

How does this adaptation make the most of Stephen King’s novel? There is a solid set up (and an inspired form of offering up early exposition) for the powers as we see that a company up to nefarious work preyed on the needy. As young people, this central couple are brought together with powers of their own to have a baby who can be used by this evil organization. But that is the unfortunate thing…this antagonist is so boring and overdone. There are more intimate aspects, especially the relationship between Charlie (this young pyrokinetic girl) and her father (who can control peoples’ impulses). Their relationship is solid but not anything new we have seen. The plot is surprisingly easy to predict, and each narrative beat never gets enough time to breathe. This feels more like a pilot for a larger series than a movie (which leaves a sense of wanting more by the time the film wraps up). 

Can the cast lift the elements of the film that may be lacking? At the core, Ryan Kiera Armstrong does fine as she yells with CGI flames shooting out around her (some of the chard moments in the film are quite affecting and unnerving). Zac Efron is a dad…let that process. He is talented and he does the best he can with the limited material he has to work with while Sydney Lemmon does her best in the maternal. Unfortunately, the screenplay does not do this character much justice. Michael Greyeyes’ character is the overly simple stoic hunter character who leaves people in his wake. Greyeyes’ presence so well for his purpose in the film. One last small acknowledgment would be Kurtwood Smith who adds depth to the antagonistic side of things with one powerfully acted scene that attempts to build up the danger that Charlie is supposed to bring. 

Does Blumhouse offer up a worthwhile rehash of this 80’s horror adaptation? Not quite. This film feels flat and uninspired. Never reaching second gear, this film feels like it is coasting on neutral when it should be firing up its engine. Most of the film is undercooked but Carpenter turns out to be the real hero of the film (but it is not enough to save the film). 

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