‘Firestarter’ Is a Sign That Zac Efron Needs to Call His Agent. Immediately.
Ken Woroner/Universal Pictures
In the 2000s, horror fans were besieged by remakes that were neither wanted nor liked, including (but not limited to) 2003's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 2005's The Fog and The Amityville Horror, 2006's Black Christmas, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Wicker Man , The Omen and When a Stranger Calls, Prom Night 2008, Friday the 13th 2009 and The Stepfather and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010. It was a desolate era of substandard renovations that left works that had never demanded such treatment given a gleaming modern sheen, and with the rare exception (notably Rob Zombie's two Halloween movies) they've been discarded cash grabs exploiting familiar and easily marketable traits for a new generation of gene republicans eager to embrace something sinister and sick enjoy a Friday night with their friends.
As that trend died, another emerged, led by Stranger Things and like-minded projects that ditched popular '70s and '80s gems for nostalgic tributes. It's debatable whether these remix projects were more original than the remakes that preceded them, but in that context we now get Firestarter, a new Blumhouse-produced version of Stephen King's 1980 novel about a young girl with the ability to go down things that burn with their minds. It was always one of the author's less early efforts, but it's most notably surged into the public consciousness through Mark L. Lester's 1984 theatrical adaptation, which starred a young Drew Barrymore—fresh from her seminal role in E.T. the alien - as Charlie, a pyrokinetic child struggling to come to terms with her stubborn habit of lighting firebrands. Not that it deserves to be remembered; Despite an impressive cast rounded out by George C. Scott, Martin Sheen, Louise Fletcher, Art Carney, David Keith and Heather Locklear, it was a lousy film lacking in horror, suspense, personality or an intriguing thought in its hellish head was missing.
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All of which brings us to Keith Thomas' 2022 rehash of King's Tale, a failed endeavor that walks the line between the lousy rehashes of twenty years ago and the more recent tributes of the last decade. Firestarter, which premieres simultaneously in theaters and on Peacock today (May 13), feels almost entirely DOA from the start - a somewhat shocking turn of events considering director Keith Thomas' Prior The Vigil took a low key and efficient piece of religious horror. Thomas' knack for menacingly low-lit action is demonstrated once again in his latest film. Yet the only mood this dud conjures up is extreme torpor, and the only reaction it elicits is confusion as to why anyone - including headliner Zac Efron - thought this was even worth their time or energy.
In an ordinary house in a bland town in an unknown location, Andy (Efron) and Vicky (Sydney Lemmon) live with their daughter Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), who is anything but normal, as evidenced by an opening dream sequence featuring a toddler Charlie sets fire to her cot - and then her own head! Andy wakes up from this reverie, shattered, and then finds his daughter playing with a Zippo lighter in her kitchen in the dark. She talks about how "something feels weird in my body," which signifies her ability to shoot flames out of her torso (aka "the evil"). Andy reminds her that when this uncontrollable feeling overwhelms her, she should calm down by focusing on everyday objects in her field of vision. As soon as Vicky shows up, he offers to make them all pancakes, although Efron can't sell himself as a father (even with a sketchy beard), this gesture of loving fatherhood seems ridiculously fake.
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